Dogs are Considered a Piece of Property
Video Transcribed: Who gets the dog? Hi, I’m Tulsa attorney, Justin Mosteller, with the Wirth Law Group and I’m going to discuss this incredibly important topic with you, today. Now, I said that a little sarcastically but it has become a more and more important issue to folks in divorces and breakups. The question of who gets the dog?
Now, the dog is not treated like a child and family courts. So, there is no best interest of the dog analysis in Oklahoma. The dog is considered a piece of property. So, first and foremost, in the context of marriage, if you bought the dog before you came into the marriage, the dog’s going to be yours.
On the flip side, if she bought the dog before the marriage, it’s hers. It’s more complicated if the dog was purchased during the marriage.
In that case, the court is going to look at other considerations, because there is no straight case law or black letter rules that say the dog goes to this person or this person.
What the court is going to look at is who primarily takes care of the dog, which family members have a particular attachment to the dog, who can financially take care of the dog the best.
And at that point, at the end of the day, if all else being equal, a coin flip, because the dog is a piece of property. And the court is going to divide ownership of the dog like a pair of trousers, except that the pair of trousers has incredible sentimental value.
In most cases, it has incredible sentimental value to both parties. So, that’s how it happens in a marriage. And, bear in mind that, in a divorce case, a court is setting what we call equity, not law.
And therefore, they have some room to carve outs resolutions that the court deems equitable, fair. And so, ultimately, that’s the case that you got to prove.
Using some known factors, prove that the most fair result would be for you to have the dog, or the best case might be, settle this issue out of court if you want to have a little more control over.
So now, let’s talk about what happens if you’re not married and you have a dog together and you break up. I have to tell you, I had one of these cases, recently, and weirdly, it was one of the most heartbreaking cases I’ve ever had.
I was on the losing side of the question, unfortunately, for my client. And these two were hopelessly devoted to this dog, and I think that the couple had expectations to marry. It just didn’t work out. And when they broke up, they had all kinds of miscommunication about this dog.
They tried to set up some kind of shared joint custody type situation where, “You take this dog, I’ll take this dog, and then we’ll swap on weekends,” and all this type of stuff that you would see in a trial custody case. And it didn’t work. And it’s pretty easy to see why. They were in multiple states. It’s hard to make it work with children in separate states, let alone with just dogs.
So, unfortunately, for them, it ended up in courts and the issues came down to who could show that they purchased the dog.
What was the intentions of the parties? Did they have some kind of contract? Did they have an agreement as to which dog would go where? Was it reduced down in writing? And those became the questions.
It was a pure contracts case, whether an agreement was formed, whether the agreement was enforceable, what did the agreement say, and following through on it.
So, really, that is a cold question. So, the advice that I have for dog lovers out there that are in a relationship, if you want to really protect your dog ownership, sign an agreement with your partner that, “In the event of our breaking up, the dog goes with me.”
You take away all the ambiguity. Get that sucker signed and notarized and then you won’t have to worry about it anymore. For the rest of you, if you have to fight it out in court, I’ll be happy to help you. Give us a call at 918-932-2800. Thanks.