Published on:

Rhode Island Court Hears Custody Dispute over Pets

Last month, the state’s high court issued an opinion in a Rhode Island family law case discussing a marital settlement agreement and whether Husband was entitled to visitation with two dogs. While at first glance the case may seem narrowly focused, it provides valuable insight regarding Rhode Island marital settlement agreements and how courts interpret and enforce these documents.

According to the court’s opinion, Husband and Wife filed for divorce after 26 years of marriage. At the time the court entered an order dissolving the marriage, it incorporated a marriage settlement agreement (the “agreement”) that the parties had agreed upon. Among other things, the marriage settlement agreement provided that Wife would retain sole ownership of the former couple’s two dogs. The agreement also stated that Husband was permitted to take the dogs for visits from Tuesday morning through Thursday morning.

For about six months, Husband was able to visit the dogs under the terms of the agreement. However, Wife eventually stopped allowing Husband to visit the dogs. Husband requested the court step in to enforce the terms of the marriage settlement agreement, asking the court to order Wife to allow his visits and provide for make-up visits. Wife responded with her own request to the court, claiming that she should not need to comply with the agreement because Husband was not properly caring for the dogs and had attempted to keep them away from her, in violation of the agreement.

Wife claimed that on several occasions the dogs needed to go to the vet after Husband’s visits. Additionally, she claimed that Husband claimed one of the dogs was missing when it was later found in his closet. Husband responded that under the terms of the agreement, he was not permitted to take the dogs to the vet; otherwise, he would have done so himself. He also explained that he was honestly mistaken about the location of the dog, and that he too was surprised it was in his closet.

The trial court determined that Husband acted in good faith, and that Wife violated the terms of the agreement when she refused Husband’s visits. The Wife appealed.

On appeal, the lower court’s decision was affirmed. The appellate court explained that the trial court’s decision was entitled to deference and, based on the evidence presented, the decision was reasonable. The court went on to explain that the dogs, under the law, are considered “property,” and an agreement as to possession of property cannot be set aside by the court if one party later changes her mind. Thus, the court ordered Wife to allow Husband’s visits with the dogs.

Are You Considering a Rhode Island Divorce?

If you are currently separated from your spouse or are considering filing for a divorce, contact the dedicated Rhode Island family law attorneys at Bilodeau Capalbo. At Bilodeau Capalbo, we represent clients in a wide variety of Rhode Island family law cases, including divorce, child custody disputes, and property disputes. To learn more about how we can help you with your situation, call 401-300-4055 to schedule a free consultation today.

Contact Information