Breakup, who gets custody of a disputed pet?
June 28, 2011 6:32 PM   Subscribe

How to deal with a question of custody of a pet after a breakup?

I am posting this question for a friend. My friend writes:

"My girlfriend, "S", recently moved out of her ex's ("R") apartment. They shared a parrot. R paid for the parrot originally, but S took care of her: cleaned her cage, fed her, etc. Both partners paid for vet bills and food. S thinks that R cannot find documentation that proves that R bought the parrot.

S feels she has a much stronger emotional attachment to the parrot. In addition she is very concerned over the parrot's well being, as R has been negligent in taking care of the parrot and her other pets recently. R has been suffering from an acute relapse of a mental illness and has been in and out of a mental hospital and has neglected the parrot for over a month. These relapses have happened before, and have resulted in R not taking care of her pets for the duration.

R is threatening to call the police if S goes by the apartment and takes the parrot. The only reason that R paid for the bird in the first place is because R made more money than S. It was a live-in partnership for more than 1.5 years, with shared expenses and basically unofficial domestic partnership.

Do you think that S can legally get away with taking the parrot, whom she loves, or would the police be able to repossess it for R, or would R win in a legal battle over this bird? If it matters, this is in Illinois."
posted by 1024x768 to Pets & Animals (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
My advice.... they both need to stop thinking about themselves and think about the pet. Who is most connected... that person should take the bird.
posted by tomswift at 6:39 PM on June 28, 2011

Substitute "television" for "parrot". What would it be if she went by her ex's apartment and took the television? There wouldn't be any "repossession" or "legal battle", just "S" getting arrested for burglary.

If there's legitimate concern over the animal call the SPCA or something.
posted by ghharr at 6:40 PM on June 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

S probably can't get away with taking the parrot or with having it seized by the police. My dad is a small claims court judge in California and sees pet custody cases all the time; in California, at least, the animal belongs to the party who paid for it.

Can S approach the situation in a way that couches it in terms of the parrot's well-being? "I know you're having a rough time right now and I think that it would be best for Polly and for you if she lived with me. I know you want what's best for her because you love her, blah blah..." You get the idea.
posted by corey flood at 6:41 PM on June 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Can S reimburse R the cost of the parrot whilst also doing what corey flood says?
posted by mleigh at 6:48 PM on June 28, 2011

I've been in a similar situation, and from what I understand, S has no right to take the parrot unless S can prove ownership, ie, a receipt. Otherwise, taking the bird would be considered stealing.
posted by mudlark at 6:50 PM on June 28, 2011

Whoa whoa WHOA!

A parrot is NOT just any pet, and OP, I highly suggest you ask the mods to change this on the from page from "pet" to parrot.

Parrots are very smart, often outlive their owners, and are very very high maintenance. They need A LOT of interaction to be happy.

Girlfriend should get the parrot. I don't think she has legal standing, tho. IANYL & YMMV.

If she can find another way to convince ex to give her the parrot - GREAT.

But you know what? I see two likely outcomes here:

- The boyfriend quickly realizes (weeks? months?) he can't care for the bird and calls her to come get it.

- The boyfriend realizes he can't care for the bird and gives it to someone with more motivation, but he does not consider the girlfriend out of spite.

Unless the guy is super cruel, he won't keep it for long and the bird will end up OK. We all hope, anyway.

If this doesn't work out, I'm so sorry. It's a loss just like any other loss in life. Grieving may become her only option. Again, I hope it doesn't get to that.

Good luck to all of you.
posted by jbenben at 6:53 PM on June 28, 2011 [4 favorites]

It seems like R is going though a rough time right now and if S wants the parrot she needs to be graceful in negotiating with R.

I don't know the details of their relationship but it seems to me that it might be hard for R to give up the parrot if it is his only company (loosing a girlfriend and a pet and being mentally ill would be really hard for anyone). S might try talking to R really nicely about sharing the parrot and asking if she could look after it while he is having a rough time. She could phrase it as him needing to take care of himself not as him loosing his pet forever. Perhaps visits or alternate weeks could be arranged. If S gets to see the parrot of have it part of the time and R is not taking care of it then S will know about it and be in a better place to intervene.

If S goes into this metaphorical guns blazing then she might loose the parrot completely. Its much easier to escalate the situation if than de-escalate it.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 7:05 PM on June 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

She can offer to pay him the going rate for a parrot. Otherwise, she needs to disengage quickly. I know this stinks; I've had to give up pets in a breakup; but if R starts to sense that this could be a bargaining chip, this thing could drag on far longer than would be healthy.

Adding: "S" should not agree to any joint custody/visitation agreement at all. That is just an invitation into a vortex of crazy, and will not end well.
posted by Gilbert at 7:06 PM on June 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

I agree with jbenben. Parrots are very different from other pets. The bird may ultimately suffer if it doesn't go with the person it is bonded to. Parrots will rip out all of their feathers and even starve themselves. She should try to buy the parrot from R.

Does she have vet records in her name or was it a joint venture? If in her name, she could use it as proof of ownership. I don't know that the police would take the parrot back or not if she took it. If it were me, if I couldn't buy it, I would take the parrot and move to a different city. But that's just what I would do, not necessarily the best thing to do.
posted by bolognius maximus at 7:14 PM on June 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

OMG. Why didn"t I think of that?!

Yes. She should buy the parrot. I also worry for this bird's health. bolognius maximus is ENTIRELY correct, parraot will self-harm when they are unhappy in captivity.
posted by jbenben at 7:22 PM on June 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

I saw this exact situation played on on an episode of Drop Dead Diva, except the parrot was a monkey. In the end, the right person got the pet, but that's because it's a TV show with happy endings.

I agree with trying to buy the parrot off R, or offering up something else in the breakup negotiations.

Or, ala Drop Dead Diva, your friend would sue the ex, and the parrot would communicate with the judge to tell him who he (the parrot) would prefer to be with. But in the end that didn't work, because the ex had a receipt and legally pets are property. Blah. But since this is happy TV world, eventually the ex gave back the monkey and everybody lived happily ever after. )
posted by cgg at 8:07 PM on June 28, 2011

Do you think that S can legally get away with taking the parrot, whom she loves, or would the police be able to repossess it for R, or would R win in a legal battle over this bird? If it matters, this is in Illinois.

I won't make a judgment call on whether it's right or wrong for S to take the bird, but I can assure you that the police will not repossess it. If R calls the police and says that S took his bird, the police might stop by to ask a few questions, but once they find out it involves a breakup, it will be considered a civil matter and R will have to take S to court to hash out custody.
posted by amyms at 8:09 PM on June 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Substitute "television" for "parrot". What would it be if she went by her ex's apartment and took the television? There wouldn't be any "repossession" or "legal battle", just "S" getting arrested for burglary.

This is not true. Not if they are in the midst of a fresh breakup, parceling out possessions, both claiming ownership of a television/parrot, and neither has a receipt. It is a civil matter to be decided in court (and only if either party decides to take it that far, it's just as likely that one or the other will give in).

In the absence of any other arrestable offense related to the dispute (physical altercation, vandalism, etc.), no one would be getting arrested.
posted by amyms at 8:20 PM on June 28, 2011

Veterinary bills in whomever's name are also allowed documentation in most cases. If your friend was the primary caretaker, are the bird's medical records in her name? If not, I fear, with the original sale in her SO's name, she would have a rough time proving ownership. If so, and if the bird was purchased by the dude for her because she lacked the money, she could argue it was a gift. Either way, buying him out seems a reasonable action.
posted by troublewithwolves at 11:19 PM on June 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

I really hope this turns out OK for everyone involved. I agree that the parrot should go to the person who is most inclined and able to take care of her. I think troublewithwolves has the right idea. Insist that the parrot was a gift to anyone official who asks. It's not an unreasonable position and this is certainly not the first time that a hapless pet has been used as a pawn at the end of a relationship. Please keep us posted on this. If I was in your friend's position, there's not much that would stop me from getting that bird back.
posted by screamingnotlaughing at 9:58 PM on June 29, 2011

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