Wednesday, May 16, 2012
PETS AND DIVORCE: OFTEN A DOG-GONE TOUGH ISSUE
NBC's The Today Show ran a story yesterday about a New Yorker who paid over $60,000.00 in legal fees fighting with his ex-girlfriend over their dog. Apparently, the ex-girlfriend took the dog to California and the boyfriend wanted it back.
This story reminds me of a case I had in Montgomery County where the only unresolved issue between the parties was a dog, an English Bulldog to be exact. Both parties wanted the dog, no one was willing to compromise (despite at least one blank check offer) and so we appeared ready for trial, with only one issue to be litigated: who got the dog.
Before our case was called, opposing counsel and I went to meet with then Family Law Master (now Judge) Steven Salant to discuss with him the issues to be heard at trial. Frankly, we were both a little embarrassed to tell him that the only issue we were presenting at trial was who would get the dog. We did not anticipate that Judge Salant was a "dog person" and, under Maryland law, pets are simply property.
After we explained the issue, Judge Salant leaned back in his chair to think about what we told him. Then he told us, as we suspected, that he was not a dog person but that he had friends who loved their dogs dearly and would do anything for them. He then instructed us to tell our clients that he was going to treat the dog like it was a child and he was going to order that the parties share joint custody of the dog. He told us to have our clients work out a "custody" agreement between themselves and we would put the agreement on the record.
And that is exactly what we did. The parties agreed to a week on/week off schedule, we stipulated who could pick-up and drop-off the dog, when and where the pick-ups would occur, and we made a provision for the payment of vet bills. The agreement worked, both parties were satisfied and I think the dog was happy too.
Unlike the New York case, this deal was achievable because both parties stayed in the same geographic area. And, neither side paid $60,000 in legal fees.
Sometimes if you think outside the Box(er), you can come up with a good and equitable result.