How do you determine who owns a dog after a couple breaks up?

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How do you determine who owns a dog after a couple breaks up?

My ex boyfriend and I had a dog that we adopted. Technically the dog was adopted under his name because I was not 21 at the time. I have taken care of the dog since day 1, paying for all food and every vet bill, and the dog has lived with me since we broke up 5 months ago. He said if I do not give the dog back he will call the police and say that I “dognapped” him. My ex-boyfriend is a felon, who spent time in jail for aggravated robbery, and I have texts saved in my phone of him threatening my life a few months ago. Could I win a case in small claims court?

Asked on September 28, 2011 under Business Law, Minnesota

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

If the dog was adopted under one person's name, then that person would generally be the dog's owner--he's the one who has "title" to the dog. It is sometimes possible to establish a right to or interest in assets which are not in one's name, if one paid most of the costs involved under some agreement between the parties that his/her contribution would entitle him/her to a share, but that can be difficult to prove (and expensive, if litigation is required). The fact that your ex-boyfriend is an ex-felon or that he has threatened you has no bearing on dog ownership--this is not a child custody situation, where the fitness to be a parent is an issue; rather, a dog is treated just like property (which is what it is), so all that matters is ownership, not who would be better for the dog or "deserves" it more. In short, while you *might* be able to show that it's your dog, the odds are against you because your ex-boyfriend adopted the dog, and you would have to go to court--and probably not small claims court, since small claims does not deal with issues like this typically--to have any chance of prevailing.


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