Roxy the family pet
This case involves a divorced couple from Lake County, their three children and a 3-year-old lilac Boston terrier, Roxy. In 2020, the wife got Roxy for the family after engaging in a breeder-required interview and vetting process
Roxy is a valued family member. She has a fenced-in yard, swims in the pool, plays on a trampoline and sits at the dinner table with the family.
The couple separated in 2022. Roxy was awarded to the wife in the divorce settlement. The settlement also provided that the children could bring Roxy to the husband’s home during parenting time, as with their personal belongings.
In the divorce decree, the Lake Superior judge also ruled that either parent could not try to influence the children to not take the dog to their father’s home.
The husband filed a contempt action within 30 days after this decree was entered. He alleged that the wife attempted to influence the children to not take the dog to his home.
The wife, in her appeal of the decree, argued that the trial court erroneously granted the children the right to take Roxy to their father’s residence because the dog was awarded to her in their divorce settlement.
Appeals court decision
The Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court in a unanimous decision. The court ruled that animals are personal property under Indiana law. Like other marital assets, a trial court may distribute pets to one person to the complete exclusion of another person.
The court acknowledged that its decision was harsh and seemingly unfeeling, but Indiana does not have a “best interest of the canine” standard governing pet custody. Allowing dog custody cases would divert judicial resources that are needed to address child custody matters, according to the court.
The state legislature, not the state courts, possess the power to address pet custody. The court ruled, accordingly, that it could not award the children with discretionary decision-making authority to take a wife’s personal property to a husband’s residence during parenting time.
Pet custody issues may be addressed in settlement agreements. Spouses can attempt to reach an agreement that is in the best interest of their pet and family.