Property issue with my ex-fiancee
January 24, 2012 6:38 AM   Subscribe

Property issue with my ex-fiancee

I lived with her in her house for 4 years. I moved to a town about 2 hours away after break up. As it happens, we have a friend that travels frequently between the 2 towns, so he would bring some boxes of my stuff back for me on his trips back and forth. Once he brought me a box with 2 paintings, done by my ex (she is an artist). I thought to myself, how nice, she gave me these. A few months later, she asks me if I have the paintings, I say yes, and she says that our friend mistakenly took these 2 me. She created these paintings before we met. I would like to keep them.

The question: Do these paintings belong to me? Is possession 9/10 of the law?

No, YANML but YAL with knowledge of civil law.
posted by allelopath to Law & Government (36 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Dude, seriously? Just give the paintings back. Why? Because it's the right thing to do.
posted by Grither at 6:39 AM on January 24, 2012 [61 favorites]

Seconding "Dude, seriously?"
posted by The Deej at 6:41 AM on January 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

Thirding. Seriously.
posted by mochapickle at 6:42 AM on January 24, 2012

1) They entirely predate your relationship; it's not like you modeled for them or something.
2) She wants them back
3) She says your mutual friend was not meant to take them
4) If she sued you in small claims court, chances are very high the judge would say, as The Deej so aptly put it, "Dude, seriously?"
5) Dude, seriously?
posted by Tomorrowful at 6:43 AM on January 24, 2012 [6 favorites]

The paintings don't belong to you and I can't imagine why you'd want to keep them. Be done with it, she's your ex-fiancé.
posted by alms at 6:43 AM on January 24, 2012

Er, as Grither put it. My bad. Nevertheless: You have no reason to keep them other than petty micro-vengeance. Be a grownup.
posted by Tomorrowful at 6:43 AM on January 24, 2012

A proper legal opinion is not forthcoming from me, but it occurs to me that even if a bank accidentally deposits money in your account, you still have to give it back; it doesn't become yours.
posted by PercussivePaul at 6:45 AM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you like them because they're great paintings, you might tell her that they are beautiful and ask politely if she would consider selling them to you at whatever rate she usually charges, just as if you were buying paintings from another artist friend. (I'm assuming that this really is about the paintings and not about simply keeping stuff because of unresolved relationship issues.)
posted by Frowner at 6:46 AM on January 24, 2012 [15 favorites]

I'm not going to say anything on the "moral" side of this, BUT:

She would be hard-pressed to successfully win such a claim:

1. Several months have transpired before a claim on her part

2. She allowed the art to leave her premises without protocols. YOU didn't come in and take it.

Think of all the things that people leave behind at homes - can't be "theft."
posted by Kruger5 at 6:52 AM on January 24, 2012

IANYL. The answer is it depends on the state (although most states probably have similar provisions). Forget about civil law, in New York this sounds like a larceny (the degree would depend on what the paintings are worth), the relevant penal law provision:

PL 155.05 Larceny; defined

1. A person steals property and commits larceny when, with intent to deprive another of property or to appropriate the same to himself or to a third person, he wrongfully takes, obtains or withholds such property from an owner thereof.

2. Larceny includes a wrongful taking, obtaining or withholding of another's property, with the intent prescribed in subdivision one of this section, committed in any of the following ways:...

(b) By acquiring lost property.

A person acquires lost property when he exercises control over property of another which he knows to have been lost or mislaid, or to have been delivered under a mistake as to the identity of the recipient or the nature or amount of the property, without taking reasonable measures to return such property to the owner;

But regardless of the above, I think the best answer is: dude seriously?
posted by Mr. X at 6:52 AM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Where do you live? The law varies by jurisdiction. I guess you could go to trial and find out, but there's not enough information here to answer your question.

It was obviously a mistake. Don't be a dick -- give them back. BTW there's a very real possibility that the law recognizes the mistake as a mistake here -- it was not a gift or sale.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:53 AM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Is possession 9/10 of the law?

"Hey, listen, when I was at your house I accidentally took your keys home instead of mine. But they're really nice keys and I like the keychain so, uh, too bad."
posted by griphus at 6:54 AM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think this theft stuff is a red herring. As I understand it, your question is simply one of property law. Again, it's impossible to say for sure, but I think it's very likely that the answer is that the paintings remain her property and you have to give them back.

IAAL but IANYL and this is not legal advice, etc.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:56 AM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Give them back, but tell her how much you enjoyed them and that you're very attached to them. Then ask if you can buy them, as suggested above, or if you might have/purchase another painting. Volunteer that you'll cooperate if she ever needs to photograph them for her portfolio or borrow them for a show.
posted by carmicha at 7:00 AM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think you have a claim, but it is probably going to create more drama and hurt feelings if you do keep the paintings. For all those saying they are obviously hers and that they predate the relationship, I don't think it is that easy. When I moved in with my fiancée, I got rid of a lot of my stuff as we didn't need two of a lot of things. I also got rid of a lot decorative items. If we broke up, I don't think it would be fair for her to keep everything just because it was here before the relationship. It isn't as simple as that. Now, since it is a very perso al item like a painting she created, I would lean in her favour in terms of having a moral claim to the painting, but if you wanted to be stubborn about the issue...
posted by Nightman at 7:02 AM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Don't be a dick. Give them back. Never mind legal or civil law; this is just decency talking.
posted by Sternmeyer at 7:07 AM on January 24, 2012

It sounds like things aren't too acrimonious between the two of you and that right now this is a simple mistake. If you decide to hang onto the paintings (as opposed to 1. giving them back or 2. keeping them after negotiating and providing compensation in exchange for them), you've essentially declared hostilities, and that's going to color every single interaction you have after that, and I wouldn't expect to get any items back after that, since you've left them at her house and the same rationale would apply. Think carefully before you declare war and remember that sometimes the best way to win a fight is to avoid it entirely.
posted by rmd1023 at 7:09 AM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

You know you're in the wrong when a lawyer freely offers "dude, seriously?". Just give them back with a smile and walk away. If you want to, ask her if she can paint you copies of them and you'll pay her for the privilege of owning some of her artwork.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 7:11 AM on January 24, 2012

You have them because you thought she sent them with your friend as a gift. That turns out not to be the case, so you have them by mistake. No harm no foul as long as you return what was mistakenly delivered to you by a well-meaning friend.

I think frowner's suggestion is fair: offer to purchase the paintings as you would from any other artist. If she doesn't want to sell them, then give them back and enjoy the search for new art in your new home. No harm no foul.
posted by headnsouth at 7:13 AM on January 24, 2012


Two years ago you were married, so is this your ex-fincee, whom you lived with for 4 years in her house or your ex-wife? The law might things differently depending on the status of the relationship.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:17 AM on January 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

They were hers and created by her before you ever met. She did not give them to you; your friend took them with or without malice but without permission. The appropriate non-dick thing to do is return them--regardless of what legal wiggle room you might have for keeping them. You know they are not yours, however fond of them you are, and you now know she did not intend for you to have them, however pleased you might have been to think she generously gave them to you. A mistake, and maybe a sad mistake, but a mistake that you really shouldn't hesitate to correct--not if you want to be a decent person about it.

If you want to make an offer to buy them, the appropriate non-dick way to do it is to make a far market offer, including in the offer the costs of any framing. If she refuses, you give them back, immediately, undamaged and work out a way that your friend never takes anything that doesn't belong to you again.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:22 AM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also, are we talking about the artist Michelle Cooke, whom you mention here?

Note that she has galleries up, with dated pieces. She could haul you into court and have solid proof of ownership. If if that isn't here, she more than likely has photos and witnesses who would be more than wiling to back her up on ownership.

Since your AskMe history shows that you're an artist and writer also, perhaps you should consider how you'd feel in the positions were reversed.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:25 AM on January 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I haven't read all of the responses yet, but in response to the "dude seriously" comments... a couple months ago, without telling me, she moved to another town, far away, and took our dog with her and it is likely I will never see him again.
posted by allelopath at 7:27 AM on January 24, 2012

The dog and the paintings are separate issues. Her wrongdoing and your sense of justice don't give you license to keep her artwork.
posted by *s at 7:30 AM on January 24, 2012 [13 favorites]

Are you saying that you've already decided to be nasty and escalate hostilities and just want to know whether it's legal?

IANAL, but I'd be surprised if you had any legal claim to the paintings.

This would certainly be an effective way to be nasty and escalate hostilities, and since you're not asking whether doing that is a good idea I won't comment further.
posted by alms at 7:33 AM on January 24, 2012 [5 favorites]

I haven't read all of the responses yet, but in response to the "dude seriously" comments... a couple months ago, without telling me, she moved to another town, far away, and took our dog with her and it is likely I will never see him again.

But that doesn't mean that you should keep the paintings. Keeping the paintings escalates this into spite - unless you think she moved and took the dog purely to spite you.

You'll look back in a couple of years and it will absolutely seem better to have taken the high road. You won't have anything to be ashamed of or anything that you'll feel weird about admitting to a future partner. You will have minimized the drama with your ex - and the drama may feel good and cathartic now, but it will feel exhausting and horrible down the road. A friend of mine finally wound up their divorce from a truly unpleasant person (who we'd all implored them not to marry)...and they were just saying the other day how the only thing that was consoling in the whole mess was having taken the high road in every encounter. All the encounters were going to be miserable and stressful either way, and taking the high road was the only consolation.

Only one person can have the dog. It's really upsetting and painful, I know. I don't know what I'd do if I lost my perfect little cat. My heart goes out to you for this.
posted by Frowner at 7:34 AM on January 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Dude, don't use the paintings as revenge for this other thing. The dog was "your"-in-the-plural-sense dog, so you're saying it was just as much her dog as your dog? Yeah that sucks she took the dog but -

These paintings are clearly her paintings.

It's not the same, you know it.
Dude, seriously.
Send back the paintings, live your karma-positive life.
posted by like_neon at 7:36 AM on January 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

The dog was her property (although it was yours too). The paintings are probably not your property.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 7:36 AM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

The dog belonged to both of you, but the paintings belonged to HER. Two wrongs don't make a right, and in this case she was only half-wrong anyway. (Did you think that owning a dog together entitled you to always live within x miles of each other in the event of your splitting up?)

Give the paintings back. Move on. Grow up.
posted by hermitosis at 7:37 AM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you're sad about not getting to say goodbye to the dog then take a road trip, give back the paintings and play with the dog for an afternoon.
posted by mikepop at 7:55 AM on January 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

She doesn't have to tell you when/where she moves. The dog is not yours. If the dog were yours, it would be living with you.

(In the future, when you own a pet w/ an SO, plan to gain or lose the pet gracefully in any potential break-up. It's not a human child, it's a pet. I've had pets in break-up situations. Yes, it sucks. But you're equating things that are not equivalent. You don't get to have a say in your ex's life because she has a dog/plant/record collection/em> that was part of your now defunct joint household. Dog does not equal child. I'm sorry.)

Please give back the paintings. If you're thinking about using them to negotiate for your dog back.... I fear legally that won't end well for you.

You don't need this reminder of your ex in you life.

Be nice. Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 9:28 AM on January 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

Another lawyer (not your lawyer, not legal advice, etc...)

Others above have stated the appropriate legal grounds concerning the ownership of the paintings. The paintings do not belong to you. Possession is not 9/10ths of the law. Even if you were married and now divorced, those paintings would still not belong to you. The only way these paintings belong to you would be if she intentionally gifted them to you, which doesn't appear to be the case.

Give 'em back. Giving them back might be the first step in reconciliation to the point that she'll work out something with you concerning that dog.
posted by Atreides at 9:41 AM on January 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

It's no different than if your friend had mistakenly picked up your ex-fiancee's jewelry box. Or her wallet. They have to go back.

(It WAS a mistake, right? This wasn't a semi-on-purpose-with-plausible-deniability act of attempted score-settling? Either way, it sucks that you feel you've been wronged by her, and it sucks to miss a dog you shared, but even if you succeeded in identifying some kind of technicaly-legal loophole for taking things that belong to her, I bet that's not really The Man You Want To Be. I dunno... maybe this energy would serve you better if you put it into finding and training a new dog, or finding new local artists you can support, or something? Good luck.)
posted by argonauta at 10:24 AM on January 24, 2012

Take pictures of the paintings, have prints made for yourself, give the originals back, and stop being a dick about it.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 11:17 AM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Quick question: Have you discussed with her, directly and unequivocally, how you feel about your dog? Have you asked for a "visitation" system, or at least a period of co-ownership while you adjust to his absence? Has she ever stated, flat-out, that she took the dog with the deliberate intent of causing you pain? Or has this all been a long, drawn-out series of passive-aggressive barbs and jabs where nobody ever says what they're thinking or feeling, only reacts to what they believe the other person is saying or feeling?

I used to assume that a key component of arguing with another person was telling that person what you were upset about. I have since come to know that many if not most people feel exactly the opposite.

So if you haven't yet said to her, flat-out, "Look, I know I'm being a dick about the paintings, but you took the dog and I miss him, and I'm really upset about that"? I would suggest trying that first. Revolutionary advice to a lot of people, I know, but hey, when all else fails, sometimes ya gotta think outside the box.

(And if you have, and she's flat-out told you that she's enjoying your pain? Send her the pictures - along with a plethora of puppy photos decorated with little hearts and sad faces. Because two wrongs don't equal a right, but that doesn't mean you're not allowed to express an opinion about it. And that way you can get at least some of the satisfaction of petty vindictiveness, without having to execute a thoroughly dickish and potentially legally-actionable move to do it.)

Also, as a point of reference, for those who are unaware? For many of us, particularly those of us who are unable to have children, our pets ARE our kids. This may be non-obvious or seem foolish to those who've never experienced that sort of attachment - but then, so too can parental devotion, to those who've never had kids. There are a great many people for whom "so she took the dog, get over it and get on with your life" might be as unacceptable a response as "so she took the kid, get over it," etc. I don't know if this is in fact such a situation, but if that's how the poster feels, it is absolutely a valid reaction to having a loved one abducted. Not that it changes the right/wrong situation with the paintings - but the emotion behind it is a different story.
posted by mie at 11:20 AM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ownership of the paintings has been covered. Your legal recourse for the dog is to sue over the dog -- I have no opinion regarding how that would turn out, but it's legally irrelevant to her (likely valid) claim to be the owner of the paintings.
posted by J. Wilson at 4:32 PM on January 24, 2012

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