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What single parents need to know

Where does your child sleep? Who owns the car he or she drives?

Divorce is complicated, but in your car insurance company’s eyes, the questions are simple: Who has access to your car, and who is eligible to drive it?

Below, you’ll find the most common questions we get from our readers about insurance issues for single parents. If you don’t see the answer to your question here, search to see if we have already answered your car insurance question.  If not, you can ask your own question.

Adding a teenager to an insurance policy is always expensive -- and the more you pay, the more you can save by comparison-shopping to make sure you get all the car insurance discounts for teenagers that you can.

Top Single Parent Car Insurance Questions

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Must both divorced parents list the child on their car insurance policies?

If the parents have shared custody, most insurers will find that the child resides at both homes and needs to be on both policies, since auto insurance follows the car and not the driver.  This means when the child is driving the mother’s car, the mother’s insurance policy will cover the child; when the child drives the father’s car, the father’s policy will cover the teen.

If the child resides primarily with one parent, then the other parent may not be required to add the child to his or her policy.

However, both parents should inform their auto insurers that they have a licensed teenager. The company will want to know who the custodial parent is, how much time the child spends in each household and which car or cars the teen will drive.

One parent (or both parents) can exclude a teenager from a policy as well.

At what age do you have to list your child on your insurance?

Many insurers require you to tell them about household residents over age 15 or 16. If the teen doesn’t have a permit or license, he or she normally can be listed as unlicensed and thus won’t affect your rates.

In general, when your child starts the permit phase of the licensing process, you should notify your insurance company and see if the teen must be added then, or if you can wait until the child is fully licensed.

When parents are divorced, both should inform their insurance companies of the teen’s impending license and determine if the young driver should be listed on one or both policies.

Failing to list your child on your policy could have serious consequences if the teen is in an accident.  Claims could be denied, or your policy could be canceled or nonrenewed.

Do I have to list a stepchild on my policy if he doesn't live here full time?

If the child comes to your home only once a month or for a few weeks a year, he or she may be covered under the current terms of your policy without being added.

If instead the stepchild comes over often, then your auto insurance provider may require you to add the teen to your policy. Ask if your insurer has an "occasional driver" classification – if so, the  rates may be lower than if the teen was considered a primary driver on your car.

If we put a car in our child’s name, can the teen insure it on his own?

Usually, if an auto insurance provider accepts a teenager, the insurer will make a parent sign on the policy if the child is under the age 18.  In most states, a contract such as an insurance policy can be voided out by a minor, so the addition of a parent on the policy keeps it binding.

In general, it’s more expensive for a teen to have an individual policy than to be listed on a parent’s policy.  If the car is placed in both a parent and a child’s names, the parent may be able to place the teen and the teen's car on the adult’s policy for a lower rate. 

If you want to insure the vehicle under your policy, be forthcoming with your insurer that the child is the primary driver of the car. Failing to inform an insurer of this could be construed as misrepresentation, a form of insurance fraud.

Are parents liable for a minor child’s driving? Are both parents at risk?

Usually parents can be held liable, but your state’s laws make the determination.

In most states, when parents sign for a teenager to get his or her driver’s license, they must affirm that they are taking responsibility for any “negligence or willful misconduct” attributed to their child when the teen is behind the wheel.  Typically this means the parents are jointly liable for the child and are assuming financial responsibility for any damages or injuries their child may cause while driving.

There are also vicarious liability laws that make the owner of the car liable for the actions of whoever is driving it.  This is why it’s important that both parents are certain that their child is properly insured for whatever car the teen is driving, so that liability claims can be placed through the car insurance policy (up to its limits).

To find out about state-specific liability laws that can affect you and how divorced parents best can protect themselves as a teen starts to drive, contact a liability lawyer in your area.

Is there an age at which you should take a child off your car insurance policy?

There is no certain age at which you must take a child off your policy.  As long as the child lives at home and drives your car, your child can remain on your auto insurance policy. 

If your child goes to live with the other parent or goes off to college, you can check with your insurance company about taking the child off of your policy or classifying him or her as an occasional driver.  If the child comes back home for breaks or an extended period of time, inform your auto insurer to make sure he or she will be covered without being added back on the policy.

Are there any discounts for single parents?

There aren’t any specific discounts for single parents.

If your child is still in school, see if he or she is eligible for a good student discount, which can cut 10 percent to 25 percent off your child’s insurance costs depending upon your car insurance provider.   Some insurers will also offer a discount if your child takes a driver safety course.

You may also be able to receive discounts for theft deterrents and safety features on your vehicle, having multiple cars on your policy, or bundling your car and homeowners insurance.   Always spend time asking about discounts when shopping around for a car insurance policy that includes a teen.

My ex-spouse is giving our son who lives with me a car. Who should insure the car?

Normally, the owner of the car is the one who carries insurance on it. So it makes a difference if the car is in the name of your ex-spouse or child.

If the car was put into your child’s name, he or she can see about obtaining a policy on it.  This may be difficult if he or she is under the age of 18, since many insurance companies won’t issue a minor a policy without a parent’s signature to make it binding. 

If your ex is the owner of the car, then he or she the ex should ask about insuring the vehicle even though it will be garaged at your home. Your ex-spouse will need to inform his or her car insurance provider that the child is the primary driver and lives with you a majority of the time. Not having the primary driver or vehicle at the policyholder’s house can be an issue with many insurers, so your ex’s insurer may not want to cover the car.

You can also check with your own insurance company to see if it will allow you to place the car on your policy. Usually you must have an insurable interest in a car to insure it, but some insurers will allow you to insure a car you don’t own as long as the owner is also listed on the policy.

Insuring a young driver is expensive, so it would be wise for you and your spouse to check out all of your options for insuring the car with both of your car insurance companies to determine the best, cheapest choice. 

Be upfront about who owns the car and where it will be garaged.

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