One of the many issues between the divorcing couple in Campbell v. Campbell, the court was asked to resolve the matter of which of them “owns” a leased 2012 Lexus vehicle.
As part of the long litany of complaints that the spouses had against each other, the court introduced the narrow issue this way:
The next incident was the removal of the Lexus from the matrimonial home. The Lexus had been provided to [the wife] during the marriage for her use. There was evidence from the [the wife] that [the husband] had given her the car in March 2012 for her birthday, although her birthday falls in May. She indicated that they went to the dealership, she had sat in the car and [the husband] had given it to her. [The husband] said in his evidence, he never gave her a car.
As the court summed it up: “There was much disagreement regarding the Lexus and the terms under which it had been provided to [the wife]”.
Indeed, the matter came to a head after separation when the husband, aided by his own father, removed the vehicle from the driveway of the matrimonial home without the wife’s consent. The husband claimed that the vehicle had actually been leased through his father’s company and that he was making lease payments on it. The ownership documents showed him as the purchaser.
To try to prove her claim to the car, the wife filed documents with the court, including a copy of the lease for a 2012 Lexus. She also tendered a birthday card bearing a handwritten note the husband admitted that he wrote. The court said:
Whether or not [the husband] intended to give [the wife] a car in the spring of 2012, the note on the card and signed by him seems to suggest that the present he was giving or providing to her for her use for the next ten years was a car. The card included a piece of “foil” in the frame of a pictured mirror, which, from the content of the card was meant to reflect the thing that [the husband] “really loved”, that being [the wife].
The hand written note on the last page of the card stated:
Love you so much thought you should have this now with your gift for the next ten years in the garage! This mirror is for you in the car. xoxo Love AC xoxo
In scrutinizing this documentation, the court added:
Reading the note and knowing that [the wife] was provided with a car by [the husband], it is difficult to imagine what else he could have been referring to when her gift was in the garage; it was to last for ten years and the foil mirror was for her use in the car. … Common sense would suggest that he intended to give [the wife] a car.
However an aspect that remained unclear was whether, by law, a lease could be gifted. To complicate things further, there was a lack of clarity around the circumstances of the Lexus’ lease, and the true nature of the involvement by the husband’s father’s company. Still, the court confirmed that leases could be gifted in the right circumstances.
The court also noted that the husband’s designation as purchaser of the vehicle was not solely determinative of the dispute, because title is not the only indicator of legal “ownership”. Perhaps counterintuitively, the true owner of a vehicle can be different than the person listed on title if there is evidence to suggest that the titleholder has gifted the property to someone else.
In the end, the court turned to the general law on what constitutes a legally-valid gift. It noted that there must be: (1) an intention to make a gift on the part of the donor, without consideration or expectation of remuneration, (2) an acceptance of the gift by the done, and (3) a sufficient act of delivery or transfer of the property to complete the transaction.
After confirming these principles, the court concluded:
As noted, it is difficult to imagine what [the husband] was suggesting with his note on the birthday card, other than to provide a car to [the wife]. However, there was no evidence that [the wife] had sole dominion over the car or the sole use of it. Although the name on the title is not definitive proof of ownership, there continues to be a need to prove intention and acceptance and delivery, with sole dominion and exclusive use of the vehicle.
The court finds that [the husband] intended to provide a car for [the wife’s] use as a gift to her. He withdrew that gift when he and his father removed the car from the [wife’s] possession in December 2013. He was then ordered to provide a safe and reliable car to [her] for her use.
The court finds that the 2010 Toyota that was provided to [the wife] in December 2013 was a substitute gift to replace the gift that he had removed. On that basis, the court would not expect that [the wife] would have to pay the lease costs of the vehicle.
These specific rulings were made as part of the court’s comprehensive order settling out various issues between the parties. The court included its findings on the car lease/ownership accordingly.
For the full text of the decision, see: