Who gets the dog?

4th June 2019

Jessica Sardina, a 25 year old woman from Maine, recently sued her ex-boyfriend for joint custody or visitation rights of his adopted dog Honey after Kelvin Liriano, with whom she had lived for 3 years, was awarded full custody of the boxer-lab by a judge in 2018 when the couple separated.

Although this particular matter is being fought in America, UK law similarly regards pets as ‘Chattel’ ie exactly the same as any other possession such as a car or furniture, therefore, as Mr Liriano had adopted the dog solely in his name a month before moving in with Ms Sardina, the Judge had no choice but to find in Mr Liriano’s favour. However, Ms Sardina maintains she has just as much right to Honey, that it is unfair that the dog should be treated as property and is calling for a change in law to treat animals like children in the case of divorce or separation.

Unfortunately for Ms Sardina her recent bid for rights to the dog was unsuccessful, with Mr Liriano’s attorneys arguing that no authority had been presented “that the mere act of cohabiting with someone gives one rights to the other’s property acquired separately and prior to co-habitation" and that “Ms Sardina has not presented any authority that having sex with someone gives one rights to the other’s property.”

With Ms Sardina stating she has a bond with Honey and vowing to carry on the fight, she will have an uphill struggle.  Unless you have a prize pig, champion canine, prize stud stallion or suchlike with a high value, the Courts will give little consideration to the matter. If you are married a UK judge would probably award joint custody but for un-married separating couples, consideration would likely be given to who paid for the animal and who is the registered owner as in the case of Sardina -v- Liriano.

In hindsight the sensible option would have been to get an agreement prior to adoption.  Whilst no one likes to think their relationship may one day come to an end, the facts are that a high number of us will divorce or separate and drawing up a written contract, preferably by a solicitor, can save a lot of heartache, not to mention money, in the long run.

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