Q: Divorce and dogs
I am 20 years old and live with my mother. My dad is going through a terrible divorce with my ex step mom. On December 4,2018 my step mom moved out of the house, leaving both of the dogs behind. I was in love with one of the little dogs and wanted to take it in as my own To live with me at my moms so he did. On January 28, 2019 my mother requested to get the microchip name changed over to her information, after we had the dog for over a month. My ex stepmom did not want that and wanted the dog back. My dad told us not to give the dog back so we did not and told her she has to get it figured out with my father who says the dog is ours. Today, September 3,2020 the dog was brought up in their divorce papers stating she wants the dog back. What do we do? We don’t want to give the dog up as we love it and have taken amazing care of it. We have had it for over a year and a half. Is there a chance we will have to give the dog back?
A: You will be hard-pressed to get an attorney to say with certainty that you could never be ordered to surrender the animal, I will say, however, that it is unlikely. First, she abandoned the animal and animals are considered property. Second, your father can likely only be held responsible for the monetary value of the dog. Unless it's a purebred, that is likely a very small amount. Third, you are not a party to the divorce, so you are not subject to the court's jurisdiction. Your ex step-mom would likely need to sue you to get an order for you to surrender the dog. I don't the judge would allow her to add you to her divorce case.
Stephen M Vincent agrees with this answer
You can be joined to the divorce case, but I don't think it will be necessary. If the court orders the dog to be returned, your father will be responsible for performing or defending against the potential contempt remedies.
But the timeline is important here, if the dog was originally community property and it was gifted to you before the petition for dissolution was served, I don't think your stepmother has any recourse. Either spouse is fully allowed to sell, transfer, and otherwise dispose of community property during the marriage.
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