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Family Court of Delaware

Nuzzaci v. Nuzzaci
Delaware
1995 WL 783006 (Del. Fam. Ct. Apr. 19, 1995) (unpublished opinion).

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Summary:   The court refused to sign a stipulation and order (prepared by the parties and signed by each of them and their attorneys) concerning visitation of the divorcing couple’s dog.  The court held that a court can only award dog in its entirety to one party or the other.  The court advised the couple to come to their own private agreement instead, reasoning that the court has no jurisdiction in this matter and further no way to side with one party or the other in the event of a future dispute.

Judge CROMPTON, Associate Judge delivered the opinion of the court.


Opinion of the Court:

LETTER, DECISION & ORDER

CROMPTON, Associate Judge.

*1 The Court has been asked to sign a Stipulation and Order concerning personal property, signed by both parties and their counsel. The gist of the Stipulation and Order concerns the visitation of a Golden Retriever (hereinafter “Zach”) with Gail A. Nuzacci (hereinafter “Wife”). Because Wife's rental lease agreement does not permit Zach to stay with her more than one weekend per month and one afternoon per week, both Wife and Edward A. Nuzacci (hereinafter “Husband”) have asked the Court to place its blessing on what is described as a “personal property division arrangement”.

The Stipulation and Order is quite detailed as to when Wife shall have visitation and even goes so far as to say that, the specific weeknight to be chosen for visitation is flexible, taking into account the business engagements, vacations, and other social events of the “parents.”

13 Del.C. §1507(f) gives this Court jurisdiction to determine, in addition to decrees of divorce or annulment, other matters where appropriate under the facts and law. Those other matters include prayers for interim relief (13 Del.C. §1509), alimony (13 Del.C. §1512), property disposition (13 Del.C. § 1513), resumption of prior name (13 Del.C. §1514), costs and attorneys fees (13 Del.C. §1515), support for a child (Subchapter I, Chapter 5) and custody and/or child visitation (subchapter II, Chapter 7).

10 Del.C., Chapter 9, §901 defines such terms as “Adult”, “Child”, “Family” and even “Relative”, but no where refers to the terms, “pet”, “animal”, or “dog”. 10 Del.C. §925 (15) bestows equitable powers upon the Court but only where jurisdiction is otherwise conferred.

A close examination of all the above legislation reveals no mention of animal husbandry visitation rights, and I am not wont to broaden the term “husband” in such a manner. It is true that 13 Del.C. §1513 gives the Court the right to dispose of marital property by equitably dividing it, distributing it or assigning it between the parties in such proportions as the Court deems just, after considering eleven relevant factors. The term “marital property” is defined as “all property acquired by either party subsequent to the marriage” with certain exceptions. Black's Law Dictionary, 1095 (5th ed. 1979) describes property as being “that which is peculiar or proper to any person; that which belongs exclusively to one.... The term is said to extend to every species of valuable right and interest.” Thus, there is little doubt but that Zach is marital property to be distributed in some fashion by this Court, but I decline to sign an order which is in essence a visitation order in every respect, except as to the biological classification of the “object d'etre.”

Carrying this argument even further, how could the Court possibly be able to make a decision in the event that the parties were unable to come to an agreement as to Zach's visitation? Chapter 5 of Title 13 speaks of the Duty to Support children, spouses, poor persons, and women with child conceived out of wedlock. Nowhere does it mention any duty to support a canine, bovine, ovine or even a guppy. Chapter 6 speaks of the uniform reciprocal enforcement of support, but before this Chapter can be placed into action, there must be a duty of support, which is found in Chapter 5 previously discussed. Chapter 7 speaks of parents and children in regard to such issues as custody and visitation. While it goes into great detail as to the factors which this Court must consider prior to determining the best interest of the child, nowhere does it mention what factors would have to be considered in the best interests of a non-human genus, should the parties not be able to agree on visitation. And, quite truthfully, the prospect of applying the seven factors of §722(a) to a Zach, a Tabitha or even a fish called Wanda for that matter, would be an impossible task. For example, would it be abusive to forget to clean the fish bowl or have Tabitha declawed? If the door were opened on this type of litigation, the Court would next be forced to decide such issues as which dog training school, if any, is better for Zach's personality type and whether he should be clipped during the summer solstice or allowed to romp “au naturel.”

*2 I do not in any way intend to offend Husband and Wife in the present action. While their dilemma is certainly a viable one, particularly in a marriage where there have been no children, the fact is that this Court is simply not going to get into the flora or fauna visitation business. The Court only has jurisdiction to award the dog to one spouse or the other.

On the other hand, these parties should be mature enough to realize that Zach means a great deal to each of them and that even though their marriage may not have succeeded, at one point or other they did presumably respect and care about each other. I would hope that they could resolve this issue peacefully and with regard for each other's positions, but if they cannot, the Court is powerless to come to their aid, except to award the entire dog to one spouse or the other.

I am therefore refusing to sign the Stipulation and Order.

IT IS SO ORDERED.

 

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