A childless, divorcing couple sought divorce; trial court awarded couple's registered dogs to wife based on the best interest standard used for determination of custody of children. Appellate court held the best interest statute inapplicable to dogs, but stated that the trial court can award dogs based on evidence of mistreatment of the dogs by one of the parties. Because the trial court's determination had a reasonable basis in fact, the appellate court affirmed its decision.
Full Case Name: In re the Marriage of Marilyn Jean PRATT, petitioner, Respondent, v. Harry Michael PRATT, Appellant.
NOTICE: THIS OPINION IS DESIGNATED AS UNPUBLISHED AND MAY NOT BE CITED EXCEPT AS PROVIDED BY MINN. ST. SEC. 480A.08(3).
*1 The parties' fourteen year marriage was dissolved on April 28, 1988. At the time of the dissolution, appellant was 37 years old and respondent was 36 years old. The parties have no children, but own two registered Saint Bernard dogs. After reviewing the evidence, the trial court made detailed findings of fact, conclusions of law, and order regarding the parties' assets and debts. Neither party was awarded spousal maintenance or attorney fees. On appeal of the judgment, appellant claims the trial court abused its discretion by (1) awarding respondent a joint asset, (2) ordering appellant to pay the parties' joint debt, and (3) awarding respondent custody of the parties' two dogs.
The trial court has broad discretion in the division of property in dissolution cases. Bogen v. Bogen, 261 N.W.2d 606, 609 (Minn.1977); Bury v. Bury, 416 N.W.2d 133, 136 (Minn.Ct.App.1987). If the trial court's determination has a reasonable and acceptable basis in fact and principle, we must affirm. DuBois v. DuBois, 335 N.W.2d 503, 507 (Minn.1983); Bury v. Bury, 416 N.W.2d 133, 136 (Minn.Ct.App.1987).
Appellant argues that the trial court erred in allowing him a $4,200 housing adjustment in the divisional balance of the parties' assets and liabilities. We disagree. Appellant lived in the parties' residence for fourteen months rent free. Since he used joint property for his own benefit without making any payments of any type to respondent, he owes respondent a reasonable amount of compensation. The sum of $4,200 is half the monthly mortgage rate times the 14 month period. The trial court's award has a reasonable and acceptable basis in fact, and is therefore not an abuse of discretion.
Appellant also argues that the trial court erred in assessing him a debt for the parties' 1986 taxes. The parties filed separate returns in 1986. However, each party bears a joint responsibility for any 1986 tax benefits or obligations because this dissolution action was not commenced until after December 31, 1986. See Tailor-Novsarid v. Tailor-Novsarid, 374 N.W.2d 805 (Minn.Ct.App.1985). The trial court's award is supported by the record, and is not an abuse of discretion.
Finally, appellant contests the award of the parties' two dogs to respondent. Appellant argues that the trial court erred by basing the award on the best interests standards set forth in Minn.Stat. § 518.17, subd. 1 (1986). While we agree that the child custody statutes are inapplicable, the trial court can award the dogs to respondent in part on evidence of mistreatment of the dogs. See In re Marriage of Stewart, 356 N.W.2d 611, 613 (Iowa Ct.App.1984). The trial court's award has a reasonable and acceptable basis in fact, and is therefore not an abuse of discretion.