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Custody or Property: Who gets the Family Dog in a Breakup?

Often throughout the divorce or breakup process, it is a complex untangling a web of comingled items-funds, property, businesses, sometimes even ideas. Child custody is one of the first issues addressed, and division of property follows shortly thereafter. But what about Fido-the faithful family dog? Who gets the family dog in a breakup?

Under present law, dogs, and other pets are considered property1. While the family pet may be considered a loving and loyal member of the family, it is not seen as different from a couch or television under present law. There have been some recent moves away from family pets as only personal property or more creative means of determining possession of the animals , but there has not been a redefining of pets at present.

A Court of Appeals case addressed a dog as subject to a Protective Order out of another state recently. In Herren v. Dishman, 1 N.E.3d.697 (Ind.Ct.App. 2013), a couple had been in an on and off relationship, and boyfriend’s dog, Sofie, which he had acquired through a previous relationship, was at the center of their arguments once the relationship ended for good.

In Herren, the parties did not marry, but did date off and on for a little over a year. At one point, the girlfriend moved to North Carolina, without boyfriend or Sofie. Eventually, boyfriend and Sofie went to North Carolina to be with girlfriend, but things soon went downhill, and boyfriend removed Sofie from girlfriend’s possession and returned to Indiana. Girlfriend filed for a Protective Order against boyfriend in North Carolina, which was granted, that alleged that boyfriend had threatened her and the dog. The North Carolina Protective Order granted the care and custody of the any animal in the household to girlfriend. Sofie was not with girlfriend at the time, and had not been for several days/weeks. With assistance of law enforcement, girlfriend regained possession of Sofie from boyfriend in Indiana.

Boyfriend filed for the dog to be returned to him and damages. The Court held that full faith and credit should be given to the North Carolina Protective Order, but that girlfriend had not justified her right to Sofie, who had not been in her possession for a period of more than one month prior to the issuance of the Protective Order.

The decision to separate, break up, or divorce from any relationship can be a difficult one, but when loved ones, including pets are involved, the emotions often surge. We hope that this blog post has been helpful in exploring some general concepts of pets in divorce. This blog is not intended as legal advice. If you have questions or concerns about your case, Dixon & Moseley, P.C. may be able to help evaluate same. Dixon & Moseley P.C. practices throughout the state of Indiana. This post was written by attorney, Jessica Keyes.

  1. See Lachenman v. Stice, 838 N.E.2d 451, 467 (Ind.Ct.App.2005).

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Based in Indianapolis and founded in 1995, Dixon & Moseley, P.C. is a niche law firm focused on successfully dealing with the complexities of divorce, high-conflict child custody and family law. Known for their ability to solve extremely complex situations with high quality work and responsiveness, Dixon & Moseley, P.C. will guide you every step of the way. The family law attorneys at Dixon & Moseley, P.C. will help you precisely identify your objectives and the means to reach your desired result. Life is uncertain. Be certain of your counsel. Indianapolis Divorce Attorneys, Dixon & Moseley, P.C.

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