Leland Law Firm is committed
to serving families when legal solutions are needed to help tackle and resolve the challenges that
face us all.
Mary Jane Leland, Esq.
Leland Law Firm, LLC
Ellis Law Center
87 South Street
Freehold, New Jersey 07728
Phone: (732) 409-7777
Fax: (732) 409-7772
December 15, 2009
On March 10, 2009, the Superior Court of NJ, Appellate Division, broke new ground in the area of pet custody law. The case involved a dispute between Doreen Houseman and Eric Dale, a couple that had lived together for thirteen years. Doreen and Eric both loved Dexter, an adorable pug dog. Each of the parties wanted custody of Dex. Both parties had contributed financially toward purchasing and maintaining him. But when Ms. Houseman left the residence, she took Dexter with her. When she wanted to go on a vacation, she left the dog with her former boyfriend, Mr. Dale. When Ms. Houseman returned, Mr. Dale refused to give Dexter back. Ms. Houseman sought relief from the Court, asking for specific performance, that is, for Mr. Dale to give the dog back! (Specific performance is an equitable remedy which is ordered when monetary compensation can not adequately compensate the plaintiff.) For anyone who knew Dexter or who loves dogs, it is “a given” that you cannot put a price on a dog.
In the lower court, Gloucester County Superior Court Judge Tomasello awarded Ms. Houseman $1,500.00 (the full purchase price of the dog), but gave custody of the dog to Mr. Dale. Judge Tomasello held that since the dog is deemed to be property (like furniture) under the law, the supposed oral agreement could not be enforced. In so doing, Judge Tomasello denied Ms. Houseman’s request for an Order from the Court to return Dexter to her. She appealed. The Appellate court overturned the lower Court’s monetary award to Ms. Houseman and its custody decision that had favored Mr. Dale.
In the landmark decision, authored by Judge Jane Grall, the Appellate Division first looked at the underlying facts and procedural history of the case. Ms. Houseman contended that the parties had struck an oral agreement that she would gain custody of the dog. Then, the court delved into the main issue of the case: whether giving a person custody over a pet is a proper remedy of specific performance. In its opinion, while it rejected the ability of a court to rule on the “best interests” of a pet, the Appellate Division saw no reason why the doctrine of specific performance could not be applied. It cited previous case law that had established that some people reasonably place “special subjective importance” on a pet, just like many do with certain inanimate objects such as family heirlooms. The Appellate Court rejected the lower Court’s ruling that “specific performance is not, as a matter of law, available to remedy a breach of an oral agreement about possession of a dog…” Instead, it found that as long as a judge reasonably believes that an oral agreement had been made, and a party has demonstrated a “sincere affection for and attachment to it [a pet],” then such an agreement can be enforced in court. And, on remand, Judge Tomasello awarded joint custody of the dog to Ms. Houseman and Eric Dale, respectively. Each person has custody of the dog for five continuous weeks.
December 15, 2009
Many have lost their jobs, or at least have taken a cut in income. According to an eye-opening article by Caren Chesler, many have decided to file for divorce or if already divorced, seek an alimony or child-support reduction. And, many have succeeded in forging economically favorable divorce settlements and convincing judges to lower support obligations. In the article entitled “Untying the Knot,” Ms. Chesler chronicles the recent calamitous effects the economic downturn has had on marriages of higher income couples. Since in many of those marriages, only one person (monotonously, often the male) made the lion’s share of the household income, many have seen this as an opportunity to save millions in a divorce settlement.
Also true when it comes to support obligations: former high wage earners who have been laid off are unable to find jobs that pay the same high salaries. Although historically judges would be quite suspicious of husbands who “reported a drastic decrease in pay during a divorce proceeding…such a scenario is believable” today. The “Great Recession”, as many are billing these past seventeen months, has been a boon for many divorce filers.
While it is obvious that a divorce filing is not usually solely motivated by an attempt to save money, many fellow practitioners are surprised by how much of a factor it has been as of late. According to a number of people quoted in Ms. Chesler’s article, divorce filers have saved millions of dollars due to the economic realities of today. Theodore Sternklar, for example, a NYC based attorney, highlighted this point when he said, “If you’re going to market-time a divorce, now is about as good as you’re going to get in your lifetime.” Interestingly, this has not really been the case for middle-income households. Since a typical middle-income household’s biggest asset is “the home and a 401k,” it’s not nearly as economically advantageous for those couples to go through a divorce proceeding. Because of this, the divorce rate for such households has not shown any significant increase.
Overall, husbands, wives, attorneys and judges, have taken notice of the economic condition our nation and many of its citizens are currently facing. And, specifically a number of higher earning husbands have used this opportunity to file for divorce while their net worth has dipped. In the process, they have been able to save quite a bit in both money to be doled out, and money that might be recouped once the market finally recovers.
This is posted with permission from both the author Caren Chesler of Ocean Grove, New Jersey and the publisher, Private Wealth Magazine. Here is a link to the entire article. You can also check out Caren Chesler’s homepage.
September 28, 2009
Crowds of people took to the Point Pleasant Beach boardwalk to participate in the Alzheimer’s Association Memory Walk on Saturday, September 26, 2009. I was awestruck to see so many people walking for such an important cause and to learn that 5.3 million Americans are suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. Held in nearly 600 places across the country, the Memory Walk is the single biggest event that helps raise money to combat Alzheimer’s. Events like the Memory Walk are crucial to fund important Alzheimer’s research. To see pictures from the Memory Walk, visit my Facebook page. To learn more about the Alzheimer’s Association, click here.
January 26, 2013
A teenaged child’s preference to change residential custody is but one factor that a Court must consider when...
October 2, 2011
Census shows that New Jersey leads the nation in lowest divorce rates (...