MEMO TO:
Alexsei Demo US
RESEARCH ID:
#40008643c1aef9
JURISDICTION:
State
STATE/FORUM:
Connecticut, United States of America
ANSWERED ON:
September 21, 2022
CLASSIFICATION:
Family law

Issue:

Upon divorce, how do Connecticut courts determine which spouse gets to keep pets acquired during the marriage?

Conclusion:

All dogs are deemed to be personal property. (Conn. Gen. Stat. § 22-350 (2022))

Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46b-81(c) provides the statutory framework for equitable distribution of property. (Mueller v. Wasser, 2010 Conn. Super. LEXIS 819, 2010 WL 1794114 (Conn. Super. Ct. March 31, 2010))

Section 46b-81(c) sets out that after considering all the evidence presented by each party, the court shall consider several factors in fixing the nature and value of the property to be assigned, including the length of the marriage; the causes for the annulment dissolution of the marriage or legal separation; the age, health, station, occupation, amount and sources of income, earning capacity, vocational skills, education, employability, estate, liabilities and needs of each of the parties; and the opportunity of each for future acquisition of capital assets and income. The court shall also consider the contribution of each of the parties in the acquisition, preservation, or appreciation in value of their respective estates. (Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46b-81 (2022))

No decisions were identified that explicitly addressed how Connecticut courts determine which spouse gets to keep pets acquired during the marriage upon divorce; however, the following unpublished decisions involving the award of pets in dissolution proceedings may be instructive.

In the unpublished decision of Hade v. Kozlowski, 2008 Conn. Super. LEXIS 1030, 2008 WL 2039281 (Conn. Super. Ct. April 30, 2008), one of the major disagreements involved a golden retriever named Bandit. The Hartford Judicial District Superior Court considered the statutory factors in Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46b-81 and other pertinent statutes and ultimately ordered that the plaintiff have ownership and possession of Bandit. This section of the Court's order was entitled "Personal Property."

However, in the unpublished decision of Jagrosse v. Jagrosse, 2012 Conn. Super. LEXIS 216, 2012 WL 447649 (Conn. Super. Ct. January 24, 2012), the New Haven Judicial District Superior Court addressed the parties' pets separately from the rest of their personal property. In a section of the order entitled "Pets," the Court ordered that the wife retain ownership of her cats and the husband retain ownership of his dog and his cats. 

In Vargas v. Vargas, 1999 Conn. Super. LEXIS 3326, 1999 WL 1244248 (Conn. Super. Ct. November 30, 1999), the New London Judicial District Superior Court explicitly considered the location of the home where the dog would live if awarded to the plaintiff when it granted ownership and possession of the dog to the defendant. 

The unpublished decision of Fritz v. Fritz, 2008 Conn. Super. LEXIS 1673, 2008 WL 2803853 (Conn. Super. Ct. July 2, 2008) involved a dissolution action where the parties had a minor child together. The Stamford Judicial District Superior Court ordered that during the school year, the child's dog would remain with the defendant. During the summer vacation parenting schedule, the child's dog would travel back and forth between the parties' residences on the same schedule as the minor child.

Similarly, in the unpublished decision of Peterson v. Peterson, HHDFA134070656 (Conn. Super. 2016), the parties had a minor child together. The Hartford Judicial District Superior Court ordered that the dog remain with the defendant and that the defendant be responsible for fees associated with the care of the dog. However, the Court also ordered that the parties exercise the right of first refusal if unable to care for the pet overnight due to travel, work, or emergency.

Law:

Conn. Gen. Stat. § 22-350 (2022) sets out that all dogs are deemed to be personal property: 

§ 22-350. Dogs as personal property. Tax exemption. Theft

All dogs are deemed to be personal property. License fees paid under the provisions of this chapter shall be in lieu of any tax on any dog. Any person who steals a dog may be prosecuted under section 22-351 or under sections 53a-118 to 53a-129, inclusive.

Subsection (a) of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46b-81 (2022) sets out that at the time of entering a decree dissolving a marriage, the Superior Court may assign to either spouse all or any part of the estate of the other spouse. Subsection (c) sets out that after considering all the evidence presented by each party, the court shall consider several factors in fixing the nature and value of the property to be assigned, including the length of the marriage; the causes for the annulment, dissolution of the marriage or legal separation; the age, health, station, occupation, amount and sources of income, earning capacity, vocational skills, education, employability, estate, liabilities and needs of each of the parties; and, the opportunity of each for future acquisition of capital assets and income. The court shall also consider the contribution of each of the parties in the acquisition, preservation, or appreciation in value of their respective estates:

§ 46b-81. (Formerly Sec. 46-51). Assignment of property and transfer of title

(a) At the time of entering a decree annulling or dissolving a marriage or for legal separation pursuant to a complaint under section 46b-45, the Superior Court may assign to either spouse all or any part of the estate of the other spouse. The court may pass title to real property to either party or to a third person or may order the sale of such real property, without any act by either spouse, when in the judgment of the court it is the proper mode to carry the decree into effect.

(b) A conveyance made pursuant to the decree shall vest title in the purchaser, and shall bind all persons entitled to life estates and remainder interests in the same manner as a sale ordered by the court pursuant to the provisions of section 52-500. When the decree is recorded on the land records in the town where the real property is situated, it shall effect the transfer of the title of such real property as if it were a deed of the party or parties.

(c) In fixing the nature and value of the property, if any, to be assigned, the court, after considering all the evidence presented by each party, shall consider the length of the marriage, the causes for the annulment, dissolution of the marriage or legal separation, the age, health, station, occupation, amount and sources of income, earning capacity, vocational skills, education, employability, estate, liabilities and needs of each of the parties and the opportunity of each for future acquisition of capital assets and income. The court shall also consider the contribution of each of the parties in the acquisition, preservation or appreciation in value of their respective estates.

No decisions were identified that explicitly addressed how Connecticut courts determine which spouse gets to keep pets acquired during the marriage upon divorce; however, the following decisions involving the award of pets in dissolution proceedings may be instructive. 

In the unpublished decision of Mueller v. Wasser, 2010 Conn. Super. LEXIS 819, 2010 WL 1794114 (Conn. Super. Ct. March 31, 2010), the Stamford-Norwalk Judicial District Superior Court explained that Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46b-81(c) provides the statutory framework for equitable distribution of property (at 1-2): 

Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46b-81(c) provides the statutory framework for equitable distribution of property.

In fixing the nature and value of the property, if any, to be assigned, the court . . . shall consider the length of the marriage, the causes for the . . . dissolution . . . the age, health, station, occupation, amount and sources  [*2] of income, vocational skills, employability, liabilities and needs of each of the parties and the opportunity of each of the parties for the future acquisition of capital assets and income. The court shall also consider the contribution of each of the parties to the acquisition, preservation, or appreciation in value of their respective estates.

In a section of the Court's order entitled "Division of Personal Property," the Court ordered that the wife shall own and retain one dog, and the husband shall own and retain the other dog (at 10-11): 

E. Division of Personal Property

1. Except as otherwise specifically provided elsewhere in these proposed orders, the parties shall divide all their other  [*11] personal property in accordance with the Asset and Liabilities Division Spreadsheet attached hereto as Schedule A. *

2. The Husband shall retain the 2002 BMW X5 and the Wife shall retain the 2009 Volvo. The Husband shall be responsible for all costs and expenses currently outstanding and going forward associated with his ownership of the BMW, including insurance, and the Wife shall be responsible for all costs and expenses currently outstanding and going forward, including insurance, associated with her ownership of the Volvo. The Wife shall cooperate with the husband in order to execute any DMV or other documents necessary to confirm and/or transfer ownership/possession of the BMW to the Husband.

3. The Wife shall own and retain the dog Teddy. The Husband shall own & retain the dog Harry.

[...]

In the unpublished decision of Hade v. Kozlowski, 2008 Conn. Super. LEXIS 1030, 2008 WL 2039281 (Conn. Super. Ct. April 30, 2008), one of the major disagreements involved a golden retriever named Bandit. The defendant asked the plaintiff for $800 to purchase the dog; however, the defendant's father testified credibly that he and his wife gifted the dog to their son. The dog was registered in both parties' names and there was credible evidence that both parties cared for the dog. The plaintiff took the dog with her when she left the defendant and the dog had been with her since that time. The Hartford Judicial District Superior Court considered the statutory factors in Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46b-81 and other pertinent statutes and ultimately ordered that the plaintiff have ownership and possession of Bandit. This section of the Court's order was entitled "Personal Property" (at 3-4, 6): 

The major disagreements between the parties involve the credit card debt and a golden retriever called Bandit. As to the American Express Blue credit card debt of $ 32,000, only $ 13,500 was for marital expenses and the balance was incurred solely for the benefit of the defendant. The defendant claimed that his fishing friends would reimburse him in cash for many of the credit card charges but the testimony of the defendant  [*4] and one of his friends was not credible. "Bandit" was bred by the defendant's parents and "given" to the defendant. The circumstances surrounding the so-called gift are as follows. The defendant asked the plaintiff for $ 800 to purchase the dog although the defendant's father testified credibly that he and his wife gifted the dog to their son. On June 13, 2005 Bandit was registered by the American Kennel Club in both parties' names (Exhibit 6). The parties disputed which one of them was the primary caretaker but the more credible evidence was they both cared for the animal. The plaintiff paid the veterinary bills for Bandit from March 25, 2005 both in New York and Connecticut. When the plaintiff left the defendant she took the dog with her and he has been with her ever since.

The court has considered all of the statutory factors in Connecticut General Statutes 46b-81, 46b-82, 46b-62 and other pertinent statutes, earning and earning capacity differentials, causes for the breakdown of the marriage the consequences of the financial orders set forth below.

[...]

4. Personal Property.

Each of the parties shall retain all personal property in their possession. The plaintiff shall have ownership and possession of "Bandit." The plaintiff will return the silver tray to the defendant.

However, in the unpublished case of Jagrosse v. Jagrosse, 2012 Conn. Super. LEXIS 216, 2012 WL 447649 (Conn. Super. Ct. January 24, 2012), the New Haven Judicial District Superior Court addressed the parties' pets separately from the rest of their personal property in its order dissolving the parties' marriage and distributing property. In a section of the order entitled "Pets," the Court ordered that the wife retain ownership of her cats and the husband retain ownership of his dog and his cats. In a separate section entitled "Personal Property," the Court ordered that except as otherwise provided in this order, each party shall continue to own that property which is now in his or her name or possession free and clear of any claim by the other (at 2, 5): 

ORDERS:

The court has considered all the evidence presented by the parties and the relevant statutory criteria and enters the following orders:

1. DISSOLUTION OF MARRIAGE

The marriage of the parties is dissolved on the ground of irretrievable breakdown.

[...]

7. PETS

The wife shall retain ownership of Hope, Midnight and Sadie, her cats and the husband shall retain ownership of his dog Sampson and Tiger and Shadow, his cats.

8. PERSONAL PROPERTY

Except as otherwise provided herein, each party shall continue to own that property which is now in his or her name or possession free and clear of any claim by the other.

Except as provided herein, the parties shall divide their personal property by discussion between the parties and, if the parties cannot agree upon a division of said personal property, the parties shall use an arbitrator to decide these issues. The cost of the arbitrator shall be borne equally by the parties.

In Vargas v. Vargas, 1999 Conn. Super. LEXIS 3326, 1999 WL 1244248 (Conn. Super. Ct. November 30, 1999), the New London Judicial District Superior Court explicitly considered the location of the home where the dog would live if awarded to the plaintiff when it granted ownership and possession of the dog to the defendant. The defendant initially paid $600.00 for the dog as a gift to the plaintiff but testified that she had, for all practical purposes, raised the dog and had a happy relationship with the dog. The defendant argued that the dog was not good with children and she would have serious reservations about the dog being with the plaintiff at the residence of the plaintiff's brother where there was scrap metal around, a five-year-old child, and where strangers regularly came onto the premises (at 10-11, 21, 33): 

The plaintiff is desirous of having the court award the dog Rockefeller to him claiming that he has trained the dog. It is represented that the dog is five years old. It is a Rottweiler. The plaintiff acknowledged that on occasion he spoke in loud terms [*11]  to the dog and was very strict with the dog. A prior court order allowed the defendant wife to keep the dog during the pendency of the proceedings.

[...]

The defendant's claim is to the effect that she has for all practical purposes raised the dog and trained him and enjoys a good and happy relationship with the dog, Rockefeller. It is the defendant's position that the plaintiff has not treated the dog kindly and that if the plaintiff and the dog are together that the dog tries to run away from the plaintiff.

The defendant acknowledged that the dog Rockefeller, a Rottweiler, is not good insofar as children are concerned, and that she would have serious reservations as concerns the dog being with the plaintiff at the residence of the plaintiff's brother where apparently scrap metal abounds, there is a five-year old child and strangers come regularly to those premises.

The defendant has indicated that the plaintiff would give the dog away or shoot the dog in the event that problems arose as concerns keeping the dog.

The defendant initially paid $ 600.00 for the dog Rockefeller as a present and gift to the plaintiff.

[...]

The Court grants ownership and possession of the Rottweiler dog known as Rockefeller to the defendant wife mindful of the testimony adduced during the two-day trial and the location of the home that the dog would have if awarded to the plaintiff.

The unpublished decision of Fritz v. Fritz, 2008 Conn. Super. LEXIS 1673, 2008 WL 2803853 (Conn. Super. Ct. July 2, 2008) involved a dissolution action where the parties had a minor child together. The Stamford Judicial District Superior Court issued orders regarding where the child's dog would live within the part of its order addressing custody and parental responsibilities. The Court ordered that during the school year, the child's dog would remain with the defendant. During the summer vacation parenting schedule, the child's dog would travel back and forth between the parties' residences on the same schedule as the minor child (at 47-48, 50): 

The Court has considered all of the relevant statutory criteria, including the length of the marriage, the age, health, station, occupation, assets, amount and sources of income, skills, employability, debt, non-monetary contributions,  [*48] acquisitions and preservation of the estate, needs of each of the parties and the opportunity of each for future acquisition of capital assets and income, and all other criteria set forth in C.G.S. §§46b-62, 46b-81, 46b-82, 46b-84, 46b-215b, 46b-56, 46b-56a, 46b-56c and the Child Support Guidelines.

The Court enters the following Orders:

A. BY WAY OF DISSOLUTION

The marriage between the parties is dissolved and each party is declared to be single and unmarried.

B. BY WAY OF CUSTODY AND PARENTAL RESPONSIBILITY PLAN

[...]

5) During the school year, the minor child's dog, Sparky, will remain with the Defendant. During the summer vacation parenting schedule, the minor child's dog, Sparky, will travel back and forth between the Defendant's and the Plaintiff's residences on the same schedule as the minor child.

Similarly, in the unpublished decision of Peterson v. Peterson, HHDFA134070656 (Conn. Super. 2016), the parties had a minor child together. The plaintiff claimed that the family dog was his pet prior to the marriage. However, the evidence showed that for most of the last seven years the defendant cared for the dog and the dog was licensed to her. The Hartford Judicial District Superior Court considered the witness testimony, the evidence presented, the court's findings, and the governing law, and entered orders in the best interest of the minor child. The Court ordered that the dog remain with the defendant and that the defendant be responsible for fees associated with the care of the dog. However, the Court also ordered that the parties exercise the right of first refusal if unable to care for the pet overnight due to travel, work, or emergency: 

Plaintiff requests that the court reduce the access time for mother and give him primary decision-making authority. The parties have had difficulty compromising on the child's health, communication with the non-custodial parent and extracurricular activities. He also seeks a deviation from child support based on the custody plan. He proposes the wife is paid unallocated funds. He claims the dog, Tasha, who is in the wife's custody, was his pet prior to the marriage.

While in Connecticut, the defendant has worked in retail sales and remains in the Manchester community. She continues to work weekends but is able to adjust her schedule with sufficient notice. She requests more access to the minor child and financial support for herself and the child. Her proposed order seeks alimony and 50% of the plaintiff's bonuses. Defendant asserts that the parties planned to save the bonuses to purchase a house.

The court heard testimony from Ms. Mona Deane, the plaintiff's girlfriend. The plaintiff met Ms. Deane at his place of employment, CNC-Software, Inc., and immediately moved into her residence upon leaving his wife, child and dog. Ms. Deane is the divorced mother of two teenage boys and has provided support for the plaintiff and his child. Ayla has been enrolled in gymnastic, cheerleading and downhill skiing as a result of living in Ms. Deane's home. Many of these activities were without mother's involvement and infringed on the limited access time she has had with her child. The plaintiff and Ms. Deane admit to traveling out of state and failing to provide mother with the location or telephone numbers to communicate with the minor child. Insomuch as Ms. Deane is a head cheerleading and skiing coach, she has direct involvement in these activities and policies. Ms. Deane's house is shared with two pet dogs.

Tasha, the Siberian husky given to the plaintiff before marriage, is licensed to the defendant. Evidence supports a finding that for most of the last (7) seven years, the defendant has cared for the animal. By his own admission, the plaintiff lived separate and apart from the dog in California and Connecticut.

[...]

Having considered the testimony of the witnesses, the evidence presented and the findings of the court and the governing law, the court enters the following orders in the best interest of the minor child.

ORDERS

The marriage of the parties, having broken down irretrievably and without the possibility of reconciliation, is dissolved. The parties are declared to be single and unmarried.

[...]

Family Pet

The dog shall remain with the defendant. The parties shall exercise the right of first refusal if unable to care for the pet overnight due to travel, work or emergency. Boarding, grooming and care fees shall be the responsibility of the defendant.

Authorities:
Conn. Gen. Stat. § 22-350 (2022)
Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46b-81 (2022)
Mueller v. Wasser, 2010 Conn. Super. LEXIS 819, 2010 WL 1794114 (Conn. Super. Ct. March 31, 2010)
Hade v. Kozlowski, 2008 Conn. Super. LEXIS 1030, 2008 WL 2039281 (Conn. Super. Ct. April 30, 2008)
Jagrosse v. Jagrosse, 2012 Conn. Super. LEXIS 216, 2012 WL 447649 (Conn. Super. Ct. January 24, 2012)
Vargas v. Vargas, 1999 Conn. Super. LEXIS 3326, 1999 WL 1244248 (Conn. Super. Ct. November 30, 1999)
Fritz v. Fritz, 2008 Conn. Super. LEXIS 1673, 2008 WL 2803853 (Conn. Super. Ct. July 2, 2008)
Peterson v. Peterson, HHDFA134070656 (Conn. Super. 2016)