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Custody of the Family Pet

Mar 28, 2023

Author: Heidi Koeneman

The Indiana Court of Appeals recently heard a custody dispute over a family’s dog, in a case decided on March 15, 2023.

As part of a Mother and Father’s divorce trial, ownership of the family’s pet dog was in dispute. Evidence regarding who should be awarded ownership of the dog was presented at the final dissolution hearing.

The trial court awarded Mother the family dog, but included a provision that the dog should follow the children. Specifically, the trial court ordered that the dog should accompany the children during their parenting time with Father in Father’s home and be brought back to Mother’s home at the end of Father’s parenting time. Mother appealed, arguing that a dog, like any other personal property, must be awarded to one party and that the children shouldn’t be given decision making over possession of the property. Father disagreed, arguing that the trial court’s order was no different than permitting the children to bring other property like a phone or table, back and forth during parenting time.

The Court of Appeals agreed with Mother gave her exclusive possession and ownership of the dog, without being undercut by some sort of visitation order.

The Court noted that, under Indiana law, “animals are personal property.” And, “[a]s a consequence, whichever spouse is awarded the canine will have sole possession to the complete exclusion of the other.” The Court also noted a policy consideration that a new wave of “pet custody” cases would further drain limited judicial resources.

The trial court’s order allowing Roxy to travel back and forth between the parties’ residences was reversed.