The children of divorced parents can’t take their mother’s dog to their father’s home during his parenting time, the Court of Appeals of Indiana has ruled in reversing a trial court’s order.
Jacquelyn Ivankovic and Milan Ivankovic were married in 2006 and, along with three children, had a lilac Boston terrier dog named Roxy.
Jacquelyn researched Boston terrier breeders in 2020 and was eventually put on a waitlist for a puppy. Before she was allowed to adopt, she had to participate in an interview process and was vetted for personal information, including the dynamics of her family.
By signing a purchase agreement, Jacquelyn agreed to certain contractual provisions, including that if Roxy were ever to be rehomed, she would have to return to the breeder. Roxy was microchipped with Jacquelyn’s information.
In January 2022, Milan filed for divorce. The parties entered into a partial mediation agreement but left two issues unresolved: ownership of a firearm and ownership of Roxy. The Lake Superior Court ultimately left Jacquelyn in possession of the dog while Milan got the handgun.
At Jacquelyn’s home, Roxy is treated like a fourth child, according to the COA, including having a fenced-in yard, swimming in the pool and even sitting at the dinner table with the rest of the family.
But the trial court also said the children were allowed to take Roxy to Milan’s home during parenting time, just as they would be able to take other personal effects.
“Neither parent shall attempt to influence the [C]hildren to convince them to bring Roxy or to not bring Roxy to Husband’s home,” the trial court’s order says.
Milan filed a contempt action less than a month after the dissolution decree was entered, alleging Jacquelyn had attempted to influence the children about bringing Roxy to parenting time and had supposedly failed to send the dog to his home with the children.
Jacquelyn appealed, arguing the trial court erred when, in considering Roxy to be personal property, it awarded the children decision-making authority over her own personal property.
The Court of Appeals agreed, reversing the trial court’s decision granting the children the discretionary right to take Roxy back and forth during parenting time.
The Court of Appeals found in its opinion that because dogs are treated as chattel or personal property in Indiana, it is the property rights of the parties — rather than their respective abilities to care for the dog or their emotional ties to it — that are determinative. Whichever spouse is awarded the dog has sole possession at the complete exclusion of the other.
“While regrettably a harsh and seemingly unfeeling outcome, it is the only one that makes sense,” the opinion says. “It is no secret that our courts are inundated with child custody cases, cases in which the happiness and welfare of our most precious commodity, children, are at stake. To allow full-blown dog custody cases, complete with canine forensics and attorneys representing not only the parties but the dog itself, would further burden the courts to the detriment of children.”
Milan argued the trial court had discretion to allow the children to bring the dog with them to his home, just as they could bring a cellphone, teddy bear or favorite cup. But the COA disagreed, likening Milan’s position to an attempt at creating pet visitation.
The appellate court noted the trial court ordered Jacquelyn to pay Milan an equalization payment of $400 for Roxy.
“If Roxy had been the Children’s personal property, the dog would not have been included in the marital estate or be subject to division by the trial court, and no equalization payment would have been required,” the opinion says.
Finally, while Roxy “might be considered a member of the family, under Indiana law, she is Wife’s personal property, and the Children cannot be awarded discretionary decision-making authority to transport Wife’s personal property to Husband’s residence during parenting time,” the court concluded.
Judge Patricia Riley wrote the opinion. Chief Judge Robert Altice and Judge Rudolph Pyle concurred.
The case is Jacquelyn Ivankovic v. Milan Ivankovic, 22A-DC-2933.