Friday, February 27, 2009

Things to Consider Including in a Marital Settlement Agreement: Part I - Car Insurance

When you are going through the divorce process, one of the things that often gets the most attention (and often litigation) is who gets what. Who gets the house, the car, the retirement plans, the antique dresser, the cat, and the Christmas lights. In other words, who gets what "stuff." The other thing that gets the most attention is child custody and child support. In Pennsylvania, a basic child support obligation is determined by the guidelines and is based on incomes. Generally, the non-custodial parent will owe some amount of support to the custodial parent. Because the support amount is set by the guidelines, an individual's actual expenses are not usually considered (although there are certain times a deviation is warranted). Therefore, when negotiating a marital settlement agreement you should look into your crystal ball and try to think of future expenses that you want to contractually assign responsibility for above and beyond child support. For instance, car insurance. According to Laurie Salkin, personal lines client manager and director of the Preventing Teen Fatalities Behind the Wheel program at William A. Smith & Sons Insurance Agency, your car insurance rates could increase $100 to $400 per month or more just to add your teen(s). When your kids are five and eight you are not likely thinking about this expense. But, you should. Teens do the craziest stuff and sometimes it negatively affects their car insurance rates. Let me tell you a story...

Many moons ago my dad bought me a Mustang hatchback because I had earned a partial scholarship to college. A week after getting the car, my parents allowed me to take it to college (freshman year), but I was not to take any road trips. (Yeah, right!) So, the first weekend back to school my friend and I took a road trip about four hours or so to visit the cute guy who had delivered our pizza during winter break. (Ah, the craziness of youth). The guy turned out to be not as cute and charming as we had recalled from our brief meeting, so we turned around and left. Traveling up and down mountains we would emerge into these little valley towns. At some point we smelled a funny burning smell, but decided that since no gauges were lit up on the dashboard that the smell must be emanating from the little towns or from the tractor trailers in front of us. (What did we know about cars!) As we headed up yet another mountain, one lane up, one lane down, we drove into a massive snow/ice storm. My little rear wheel drive Mustang was no match for the weather. I had it in 2nd gear, traveling slowly, still smelling the funny burning smell, but concentrating exclusively on the road ahead. Then, for some reason I glanced into the rearview mirror and much to my horror the entire back of the car was filled with black swirling smoke up to the backs of our heads!

I pulled over and turned off the car. We got out, locking the doors behind us (after all, our purses were in there) and went to the back and opened the hatch. After the smoke poured out I put the rear seat down and lo and behold, flickering out from the bend/division in the carpeting was a small flame! Well, we thought AAACCKKK! Flame, gas tank, too close for comfort, RUN! So we slammed the hatch back down and ran (slipping and falling in the ice and snow) about 100 feet from the car. We turned around and the back of the car was engulfed in flames, ten feet high! We tried to stop the traffic, but the rubber necking opportunities were just too much for the other drivers to pass up. There we were, two teenage girls jumping up and down trying to stop people and still stay on our feet in the slippery ice/snow storm. We were pretty much ignored. (I could just imagine the other drivers saying, "Oh look, Marge, a car engulfed in flames. We don't get to see that every day, let's drive closer to watch it explode.) Craziness!Well, anyway, eventually traffic was stopped in both directions, and the fire and police people arrived. They took a hatchet to my car while I stood there with keys in hand thinking perhaps I could be more useful. We were directed to sit in the ambulance. Now, hysteria had gotten the best of us at this point and we were in tears - laughing and jabbering about wanting marshmallows.

Eventually, a fireman joined us in the ambulance and handed us two paper bags - "here's your purses, ladies." There was nothing but charred remnants of wallets. The car was burned to a crisp. The seats and steering wheel looked like wire coat hangers. A policeman met with us and wanted to call my dad to have him come get us. ---- Uh, nope, not a good idea officer, you see, we are on a road trip that we're not supposed to be on, and we are, like, three hours from home. And I'm not so sure how to explain that I burned up the car that I just got last week...Maybe I should call my dad instead of you. --- So, he drove us to the police station, chains on car, still slipping and sliding. I called my dad and immediately burst into tears. "Daddy, you know that car you just got me, well it, uh, burned up...sob sob..." Well, my dad talked to the policeman and they made the executive decision that because there was no way that my dad could get there to pick us up in the storm the policeman should take us to the nearest hotel for the night.

The next morning my dad showed up and as we were waiting to check out it occurred to me that the trip back to school was going to be really long one and that I was in alot of trouble. Strangely, all my dad said as we walked out of the hotel was "Pretty traumatic experience, huh?" He drove us all the way back to college (three hours or so) and never said another word about it. A few months later I said, "Dad, I wish I knew why the car caught on fire. I get nervous whenever I smell that smell, and truck exhaust kinda smells like it."

His response (and I suppose the reason I didn't get in trouble for ANY of it) was: "Well, when I got the car (it was used and he bought it at an auction) I was checking it out to make sure it was safe. I saw some paper like stuff near the floor boards in the back. It didn't seem to have a purpose so I took it out. It may have been a heat barrier to protect the floor boards from catching on fire." HELLO!

The moral of the story is that although at the time I burned up the car I was over 18 and responsible for my own car insurance payments they did increase. Given the high cost of insurance even for teen drivers who don't take forbidden road trips, divorcing parents may want to consider and come to agreement regarding which parent, if either, will take responsibility for paying for a child's future car insurance payments.


Audrey Buglione is a family law attorney and single mom who lives in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania with her three children. Luckily, none of them are driving... yet. Her office is located in Dauphin County. She assists clients seeking divorce, child custody, child support, spousal support and alimony pendente lite in Dauphin, Cumberland, Lancaster, York, Perry, and Lebanon counties. Audrey also handles select animal law cases! Contact
Audrey for a no-obligation confidential consultation.

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