Your debtor has “no money,” but you hear he’s been seen driving around in a car worth $48,000. Your trace the car’s ownership and find it’s owned by a Delaware corporation. Or, worse, your debtor is rumored to have a car but has not registered it. It’s in storage and hidden, to be brought out and registered once your divorce is final.
First of all, consider the easier case. Cars need to be licensed by the state, and the state needs to mail you the paperwork and registration sticker to affix to your car even if your dealer provides the license plates.
Where does that paperwork go? Usually to the address where the debtor can most easily get his hands on it. We once needed to serve an individual who had many addresses since he owned several apartments and had mail spread around between them. Figuring out how to serve him with a complaint was a problem until we noticed that according to social media he was a Porsche fanatic. We noticed from databases that among his cars he owned a nice Porsche and figured that the registration papers would probably be mailed to the address he actually occupied. We were right and served him immediately.
Of course, if the car is leased, it becomes the subject of a security agreement and creditors have a hard time getting in line ahead of the lessor. But if the debtor bought the car in his own name it can be one of the easiest assets to track down. Even if he bought the car in the name of a company he controls, we can also search car registrations by address.
Now, what about the hidden car that has not been registered, or by agreement remains registered in the name of the seller, subject to a handshake agreement that after the divorce the registration will be changed to the debtor’s name?
Cars have to be stored, especially cars that have to be kept secret. In those cases, we can contact garages near the debtor’s home, office, and possibly second home or favorite vacation site.
If your debtor buys a car but fails to register it, he is colluding with a person he trusts not to double-cross him. Who are the debtor’s best buddies who would do this for him? His wife would have a few good guesses in most cases. If your debtor bought a car from his friend Bob and is storing it at his own second home, but the car remains registered in Bob’s name, will Bob risk committing perjury to swear that the car is really his? Usually not.