Animal Rights
Animal Rights

Judge Rejects 'Dog Equal to Child' Argument in Custody Case

| by The Heartland Institute
A New Jersey appeals court has stepped in to resolve an ex-couple’s dispute over custody of the pug dog “Dexter.”

The couple bought Dexter when they were engaged, but got into the custody battle after they broke up. The woman claimed the pair had an oral agreement entitling her to Dexter; she sued for specific performance of this agreement, a remedy available when the subject matter of an agreement is one-of-a-kind. The trial court found the oral agreement existed, but it allowed the man to keep the dog because he had possession of it. The court awarded the woman the $1,500 the couple paid for Dexter.

On appeal, the court set new precedent in New Jersey, finding the dog had “unique sentimental value” to the woman, so the remedy of specific performance was available. The man’s lawyer predicted the ruling would complicate and delay divorce cases. “Wait until you see the backlog in the courts when we start having custody hearings on pets,” he said. “That’s the natural progression.”

The court rejected the amicus brief argument by Lawyers in Defense of Animals claiming custody should be determined by a best-interest-of-the-pet standard, a version of the standard governing child custody.

Read the Opposing Views debate, Should Animals Have the Same Rights as People?

Source: Mary Pat Gallagher, “New Business for Courts: Pet Custody, Judges may invoke specific performance remedy, N.J. appeals panel says,” New Jersey Law Journal, March 12, 2009, via overlawyered