Doggy drama
November 27, 2007 9:06 AM   Subscribe

Brother is going through a messy divorce. He techically "owns" the dog. She has it and won't give it back. Call the cops? What legal "recourse" does he have"

Posting anon because I worry that this could get ugly with lawyers at some point. My brother who lives in Washington state, has proof of ownership from the pound where dog was purchase (in Indiana), and has micro-chip in his name. She has dog now and will not return it. He has tried to discuss this with her and at one point, she agreed to give dog back (verbally). However, now she doesn't want to. Can/Should he report the dog stolen? Or just get a lawyer? Or both? Thanks.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (25 answers total)
They should both get lawyers so they can work all this shit out at arms-length from each other.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:11 AM on November 27, 2007

I just can't fathom a "messy" divorce or really any kind of divorce without a lawyer. Tell your brother that if he doesn't get a lawyer, he'll lose much more than his dog.
posted by grouse at 9:11 AM on November 27, 2007

I don't see why he couldn't report it stolen. The dog is registered as his property. But he should probably talk with his divorce lawyer first (he does already have a divorce lawyer, right?).
posted by schroedinger at 9:12 AM on November 27, 2007

A lawyer will tell you whether to get the police involved or not.
posted by grumpy at 9:19 AM on November 27, 2007

1) He should get a lawyer immediately, particularly if the divorce is "messy."

2) If he actually wants the divorce to not be "messy," he could start by just letting her have the dog.
posted by The World Famous at 9:23 AM on November 27, 2007

that's why people hire lawyers
posted by matteo at 9:23 AM on November 27, 2007

IANAL, but pets are generally considered property in the legal sense. So...

Can/Should he report the dog stolen?

Can he? Yes. Should he? Depends on how ugly he wants this to be.

Or just get a lawyer?

If this is a messy divorce, a dispute over the dog should be but one of many reasons your friend needs a lawyer.
posted by mkultra at 9:24 AM on November 27, 2007

This isn't the answer you or your brother or your brother's ex want, but:

This fight is not about the dog. If they want to keep having a messy divorce, lay on! If they want to resolve their issues and get their lives back, your brother could start by temporarily giving in on this issue.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 9:34 AM on November 27, 2007

Of course he should just give in, then when she wants the next thing, he should let her have it, and the next thing and so on. Then he will have nothing, but gee that divorce was easy(for her)

This may not be about the dog, but if the dog is his, he has receipt of ownership and proof of paying for the care of it, vet account in his name etc. He has every right to fight her for the dog. I suspect she is digging in only as a way to inflict pain and conflict onto your brother.

I hope there are no children involved, but then she could give a rip about the dog and she would be putting the screws to him over the kids instead.
posted by Jazz Hands at 9:42 AM on November 27, 2007

If you want to have a more conciliatory divorce, be sure to let your lawyer know this. Getting a lawyer does not automatically mean you have to have an expensive heart-rending fight over everything. In fact, it may be beneficial to avoiding further drama if you let your lawyers hash things out as ROU_Xenophobe suggests, as they will be less emotionally invested.

But get a lawyer.
posted by grouse at 9:53 AM on November 27, 2007

Technically the law treats pets as property, even though people usually don't think of them that way. The way you phrase it ("this could get ugly with lawyers at some point") implies that lawyers are not yet involved. Sometimes people can amicably go through a divorce handling it themselves, but if it can be described as "messy" then really lawyers ought to be brought in to duke it out by proxy.

I'm going to play devil's advocate on the ownership issue, however. The proof that the dog is your brother's property is based on having his name on the adoption papers from the pound and his name on the microchip forms? If they were already married when they acquired the dog, it doesn't necessarily follow that just because he happened to take the dog to the vet to get microchipped it's automatically his now. If he already had the dog before they got married, that's different. I'm guessing she feels that dog is just as much hers as it is his, based on the tiny bit of information you provided.

And I doubt very much the cops are going to do anything. They will hear "I'm getting divorced, and she won't let me have the dog" and file it under "domestic dispute, not our bailiwick."
posted by ambrosia at 9:57 AM on November 27, 2007

Bought with community assets = community property subject to equitable and just division.

Get a lawyer.
posted by dios at 10:18 AM on November 27, 2007

Does he still have a key to the house?

Does she work at all?

Just steal it back.
posted by Oktober at 10:19 AM on November 27, 2007

Lawyering up and threatening to sue seems likely to exacerbate an already inflamed situation. Plus, a black-and-white I-win-you-lose solution is going to leave somebody missing a beloved dog.

What about a mediator?
posted by ottereroticist at 10:38 AM on November 27, 2007

For those saying to call in the cops, or steal it back, those are recipes to elevate the fighting. Your brother doesn't have to abandon the dog, but abandon the dog *for now*. Nth the get a lawyer, and if he for some reason doesn't, get any agreements that they make in writing. Having people witness an agreement isn't nearly as good as signatures on paper, with signatures of witnesses; one per side.

Ms. nobeagle's dirvorce taught her that people hearing verbal agreements means nothing in divorce court, and it was a very costly lesson at that. It also taught her that initially amicable separations can very quickly turn sour. It's already sour? *Really* get a lawyer.

How would your brother react if something that he liked/treasured was stolen from him while he was out and he strongly suspected his wife? Would he up the ante, and get angry and vindictive? Well why the hell wouldn't she?

Get everything in writing and get a lawyer.
posted by nobeagle at 10:42 AM on November 27, 2007

He should get a lawyer and work out a shared custody agreement. Dogs are property, but they are also members of the family. It's not totally unreasonable for her to want to keep a connection to the dog. In a messy divorce, the person who has great records, and tries hard to be reasonable, and keeps records of that, will be appreciated by a judge. Lawyers are good at being adversarial, and he's going to need a lawyer. But he should try really hard to do the right thing. He will be happier in the long run.
posted by theora55 at 10:54 AM on November 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

I don't see why he couldn't report it stolen.

He can. If he does, the probable result will be:

*Cops show up at Woman's house, embarrassing the crap out of her.
*Their previous discussions come up
*The cops will do nothing, telling Man that because of their conversation and earlier agreement, she is holding the dog with his consent and that this is a civil matter. Or, the cops will find some other reason to tell him that it's a civil matter because they have an infinite array of things to do that are more important than getting involved in a divorce.
*Man will get very pissed off at this injustice that is so terrible that people starving to death in Darfur will weep for him.
*Woman will get very pissed off that Man dragged the cops into it
*Cops will be annoyed with Man

None of this is worth it. What should happen is that each of them should hire a lawyer, explain what they want, and let their lawyers negotiate a deal between them, because the lawyers aren't actively trying to fuck over the other party even at their own expense.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:30 AM on November 27, 2007

At whose home will the dog be happier/safer/more humanely housed? Where is it best for *the dog* to live?
posted by mccxxiii at 12:01 PM on November 27, 2007 [2 favorites]

You really can't assume that a judge will grant you custody of the dog, even if you can document that it's yours. Of course it varies by state, but there has been a growing trend for divorce judges to treat pets like family members. As for your wife's "verbal agreement", it's not worth the paper it isn't printed on. Get a lawyer.
posted by ubiquity at 12:57 PM on November 27, 2007

Again, just take it back.

She has no recourse against you at that point.
posted by Oktober at 1:34 PM on November 27, 2007

Well if it's a messy divorce I'd recommend lawyers anyway. But on the issue of the dog alone, does the guy really want the dog or is he just putting up a fuss for the sake of it?

When it comes to property it's a more financial thing than an emotional thing... but if she has a strong attachment to the dog and the guy doesn't have as much attachment then it's just mean to insist on keeping the dog.

One instance where he 'gives in' to her isn't going to carry over into everything else unless he lets it. It's just immature and unreasonable to not let her have anything 'just because'. That's how a lot of messy divorces start in the first place.

So where is the dog most wanted and therefore probably best taken care of and paid attention to? Property is one thing but pets are living creatures so legally or not, it 'should' be a different situation.

As for the rest of it, get lawyers to duel it out.
posted by purelibertine at 2:28 PM on November 27, 2007

just take it back.

She has no recourse against you at that point.

This is profoundly bad advice. Until the parties have agreed to, or the court imposes, a division of property, a self-help remedy will not do anyone any favors, and could land anonymous' brother in a new heap of legal trouble. It's exactly the kind of underhanded behavior that courts frown on, and is more likely to lead to the judge awarding the dog to the wife.
posted by ambrosia at 5:10 PM on November 27, 2007

Regarding the divorce, yes, get a lawyer. Regarding the dog, assuming the dog loves them both equally and both love the dog, then which of the two of them can give the dog the best living space, company, and care? That's the one who should get custody of the dog. If either of them argue otherwise, they should lose.

Property is one thing but pets are living creatures so legally or not, it 'should' be a different situation.

Legally it is a different situation. There are legal standards for care and control of animals, and penalties for cruelty and negligence. On the other side of the coin, courts can and do consider the sentimental value of inanimate property and can make orders granting access, shared ownership, etc over basically anything jointly owned, in the course of divorce settlements; the same reasoning certainly can be applied to pets.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 5:31 PM on November 27, 2007

Do not call the cops, do not steal the dog back. Tell your brother to discuss this with his ex and work out an arrangement. If she refyses, they can go to court to work this out.
posted by Kioki-Silver at 5:50 PM on November 27, 2007

There's messy and there's MESSY. If this is merely a messy divorce (and that's pretty much the baseline for divorces) then I would try a mediator before lawyering up. Mediators are a lot cheaper and make their reputation by resolving disputes, not winning them.
posted by tkolar at 9:47 PM on November 27, 2007

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