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Titlesort descending Citation Alternate Citation Summary Type
Hament v. Baker 2014 VT 39, 97 A.3d 461 (Vt. 2014) 2014 VT 39 The custody of an eleven year old German wirehaired pointer was the central issue in this Vermont divorce case. While both parties testified to their strong emotional ties to the dog and to the care that each spouse provided, the Superior Court awarded custody to the husband. The wife appealed the Superior Court’s decision arguing that the court erred in refusing a joint arrangement, that the court’s finding was not supported by the evidence, and that this finding provided an arbitrary basis for award. On appeal, the Supreme Court of Vermont held that the family court division could consider factors not set out in 15 V.S.A. § 751(b); specifically, the welfare of the animal and the emotional connection between the animal and each spouse. The court found that both parties were afforded an opportunity to put on evidence regarding both factors without restriction in the Superior Court. The Supreme Court of Vermont also held that the Superior Court was correct in its statement that the family division could not enforce a visitation or shared custody order for companion animals. Unlike child custody matters, the court said, there is no legislative authority for the court to play a continuing role in the supervision of the parties with respect to the care and sharing of a companion animal. The Superior Court’s decision of awarding custody to the husband was therefore affirmed. Case
Hogan v. Hogan 199 So. 3d 50 (Ala. Civ. App. 2015) 2015 WL 7889623 (Ala. Civ. App. Dec. 4, 2015) This case is an appeal of a judgment granting an Alabama divorce. With regard to animal law, the husband argues on appeal that the trial court erred in awarding the wife the couple's two dogs. Specifically, the husband argues that one of the dogs was given to him as a gift and is therefore his separate property. He also suggests that because the dogs lived with him since his wife moved out of the marital property (from 11/2012 until 02/2015), he is the "proper owner" of the dogs. While this court noted that evidence concerning ownership was disputed at trial, the evidence is undisputed that the wife entered the marriage with one of the dogs. The second dog was given to both parties by the wife's niece. In examining Alabama law, the court observed that it has long been held that dogs are property. Thus, evidence of ownership can come from documentary title (like a dog license or registration) or possession. Here, the court was persuaded by the testimony that when the wife moved out, she moved into an apartment and was unable to take the dogs with her. No evidence was presented that the wife's circumstances changed to allow her to keep the dogs, and there was no showing that the wife sought court intervention to regain possession of the dogs. Thus, the court stated the following: "Based on the presumption stated in Placey, supra, that the ownership of a pet is presumed to be in the person who possesses it, and given the wife's failure to present evidence indicating that she was in a position to take the dogs, we conclude that the evidence does not support the trial court's decision to award the dogs to the wife. Accordingly, that portion of the judgment awarding the dogs to the wife is reversed." Case
Houseman v. Dare 966 A.2d 24 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 2009) 405 N.J.Super. 538 (2009)

An engaged, live-in couple purchased a dog together and listed both of their names on the American Kennel Club registration.  While speaking to his girlfriend about ending the relationship, the boyfriend promised her that she could keep the dog, but failed to fulfill that promise; the court required specific enforcement of that promise. In addition, the court found that dogs possess special subjective value similar to "heirlooms, family treasures, and works of art."

Case
In re Marriage of Berger and Ognibene-Berger (Decisions Without Published Opinions) 834 N.W.2d 82 (Table) (2013) (unpublished) 2013 WL 1749799 Joe Berger appeals from the provisions of the decree of divorce from Cira Berger, including the court’s grant of Max, the family golden retriever, to Cira. He argues that it would be more equitable to grant him ownership of Max because Cira already owns another dog, Sophie, and the parties’ son, who lives with Joe, is very attached to Max. The district court made their decision based on which party would be more available to care for the dog. This court affirms that decision, citing evidence that Max is licensed to Cira, only Cira’s name is in the dog’s ‘GEO tracker’ device, and Cira got Max medical attention even when Max was in Joe’s care. The court specified that they need not determine a pet's best interests when deciding custody. Case
In re MARRIAGE OF Kimberly K. Enders and Michael A. BAKER 48 N.E.3d 1277 (Ill. App. Ct., 2015)

In this case, Michael A. Baker appealed the trial court’s decision regarding property distribution and visitation rights with regard to his two dogs, Grace and Roxy, following his divorce from Kimberly K. Enders. The trial court awarded custody of both dogs to Enders and denied Baker any visitation rights. In making its decision, the trial court relied on a New York case in which the New York Supreme Court did not allow dog visitation. (Travis v. Murray, 42 Misc.3d 447, 977 N.Y.S.2d 621, 631 (N.Y.Sup.Ct.2013). The New York Supreme Court refused to apply the “best interests of the dog” standard and instead applied a “best for all standard,” holding that “household pets enjoy a status greater than mere chattel.” Baker appealed the trial court’s decision arguing that Illinois courts have the authority to order pet visitation. On appeal, the court determined that there was no case law to suggest that an Illinois court had ever addressed the issue of dog visitation. As a result, the court found that the trial court was well within its discretion to apply the standard used in the New York case. Additionally, the court of appeals applied the statutory definition of “dog owner” in Illinois and determined that Enders was the dogs’ rightful owner. The Illinois statute defined owner as “any person having a right of property in an animal, or who keeps or harbors an animal, or who has it in his care, or acts as its custodian.” The court found that because the dogs were left in Ender’s care following the divorce, she is the one who “keeps or harbors” the dogs and is therefore the owner. Ultimately, the court affirmed the trial court’s decision and denied Baker visitation rights.

Case
In re Marriage of Piskalns Unpublished Disposition, 344 Mont. 555, 186 P.3d 877 (Table) (2008) 2008 WL 2441361 The parties both appealed from the district court’s orders distributing the marital estate upon the parties’ divorce. Kara Pilskalns claimed that the court erred when it granted ownership of Maggie, the couple’s dog, to Andrew Pilskalns. This court affirms the decision, declining to use the best interest of the child standard for the distribution of pets as they are marital property. Case
In re Marriage of Stewart 356 N.W.2d 611 (Iowa Ct. App. 1984)

Dog which had been gift from husband to wife was awarded to husband in divorce decree; wife appealed.  Appeals court found that the trial court did not err, considering both "the property division as a whole" and that the dog had accompanied husband to work each day.  Court held that a dog is personal property whose best interests need not be considered.

Case
In re Marriage of Tevis-Bleich 939 P.2d 966 (Kan. Ct. App. 1997) 23 Kan.App.2d 982 (1997) A couple had agreed to a divorce settlement where they each had visitation rights with their dog; the trial court approved of the arrangement.  The wife later tried to have that section removed from the decree, but the trial court held that they did not have jurisdiction to make such a change.  The appellate court affirmed the decision, which left visitation intact Case
Juelfs v. Gough 41 P.3d 593 (Alaska 2002) In this case, the husband and wife had agreed to shared ownership of their dog, which the lower court incorporated into its order.Based on danger the dog faced by other dogs in the wife’s home and increased contention between the parties, the lower court next gave the husband custody with an order for the wife’s visitation, and finally awarded sole custody to the husband. The state’s Supreme Court affirmed the modified order. Case
Matter of Marriage of Niemi 496 P.3d 305 (Wash. Ct. App. 2021) Douglas Niemi appealed the trial court's order granting Mariah Niemi visits with their two dogs, which were awarded to Douglas as his separate property in a dissolution proceeding. Douglas and Mariah were married for 27 years and had two large dogs who were each about two years old. During the petition for legal separation, Mariah asked for 10 hours a week of visitation with the dogs because they were "family members." Following the trial, Mariah continued to emphasize her desire to have access to the dogs and the court ultimately awarded the dogs to Douglas as separate property, but allowed Mariah visits with the dogs three times a week. Douglas appealed that award, contending that the trial court abused its discretion by awarding visitation of his separate property. Mariah countered with the fact a court has discretion to grant her access to this "special classification" of property. Here, the Court of Appeals agreed with Douglas, finding that the lower court had no authority under Washington law to compel a party to produce separate property after a marital dissolution. The court also held that is not the province of the court to recognize a special category of personal property when the statute has not done so. Finally, the court observed that such agreements about visitation with animals would lead to continuing supervision and enforcement problems in the court system. Because the trial court exceeded its authority in awarding visitation rights, this court reversed and remanded the issue for the trial court to strike the provision related to visitation and maintenance costs for the dogs. Case

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