Dog Parents in Massachusetts: Pay Attention to this New Ruling

Teddy Bear’s Custody Triumph

In the March 7, 2024 ruling of Lyman v. Lanser, the Appeals Court affirmed the agreement to share custody of Teddy Bear. You might find it odd that a teddy bear would be at the center of a custody dispute, and you’d be right: Teddy Bear is not a stuffed animal, but the name of a Pomeranian dog that the parties acquired when they were romantically involved. This case stands out since custody agreements typically involve children, not pets or stuffed animals. And animals are generally viewed and treated as property by the courts, not as family members.

Pet Parents Custody

What Makes Teddy Bear Special?

The plaintiff, Brett Lyman, and the defendant, Sasha Lanser, agreed that if they ever broke up, they would share Teddy Bear equally. They ended their relationship after three years and exchanged possession of him every week through 2021. However, in January 2022, Lanser moved to a new apartment; a couple of months later, she cut off all communication with him. Lyman took legal action in Middlesex Superior Court, alleging both conversion and breach of contract. He sought not monetary compensation but the enforcement of his former girlfriend’s commitment to share custody of Teddy Bear.

Dog Lawyers to the Rescue

The plaintiff’s attorney, Jeremy M. Cohen of Swampscott, founder of his firm Boston Dog Lawyers, specializes in representing owners of dogs and other companion animals. He observes a growing acknowledgment among judges that lost time with a pet constitutes significant harm to the owner. “When I first started, there was a lot of doubt in judges’ minds. Now, that’s sort of an automatic,” Cohen says.

A Tail of Three Judges

Superior Court Judge Shannon Frison issued a preliminary injunction, mandating that both parties could enjoy possession of Teddy Bear for alternating two-week intervals finding that a previous agreement did exist to such effect and warranted the injunction.  In contrast, in a single Justice Appeal, Court Judge Marguerite T. Grant opined that Frison had overstepped her authority by treating the dog as if he were a child of the parties involved. In a further appeal, the Appeals Court upheld Frison’s decision, the Court held that it was within Judge Frison’s discretion to issue the injunction.

Teddy Bear holds more significance than a mere possession. Given the pre-existing arrangement between the parties to jointly care for their beloved pet, the Court opted to honor the owners’ commitment to shared custody. Could this be the start of Massachusetts expanding their view of pets as being more than just possessions? We shall see!

 

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