As a Massachusetts family law attorney, I often see disputes over beloved family pets when couples split up. These cases pull at the heartstrings and illustrate how messy the legal system can be when emotions run high. A recent Appeals Court decision shows just how complicated pet custody battles can become.
The Couple Who Shared Custody of Their Rescue Dog
The unmarried couple adopted an adorable border collie-pit bull mix named Sadie during their relationship. The woman completed the adoption paperwork and paid the fee, but the man spent more time training and caring for the dog.
When the couple broke up, Sadie went to live with the man at his parents’ house. The woman sued to get Sadie back, claiming she was the legal owner. A judge initially agreed and granted her temporary custody.
Appeals Court Sides With the Man - Why?
After trial, the judge ordered the woman to return Sadie to her ex. Why? The court said despite the paperwork listing only the woman's name, Sadie was an intentional "gift" to the man.
The judge considered these factors key:
The woman adopted a dog matching her ex's preferred breed, signaling her intent to gift the pet to him
The man spent more time actively caring for and training the dog
Sadie lived at the man's parents' house where she had space to play
A close call, but the Appeals Court affirmed Sadie stays with dad.
Takeaways For Couples With Pets
This case shows courts will look past adoption paperwork and assess who cared more for a pet when determining custody after a breakup. My advice if you’re considering separation? Proactively address pet custody to avoid a lengthy court battle.
Disclaimer: The content provided in this blog is for informational and educational purposes only. It should not be construed as legal advice and readers should not act upon any information provided without seeking professional legal counsel. The author does not guarantee the completeness or accuracy of the information provided. This blog is not intended to create an attorney-client relationship between the author and the reader.