When “Changing Horses” Really Means Changing Horses: Who Gets the Horse in Divorce?
With 50% of marriages ending in divorce, it’s no wonder we all know someone who has been involved in a child custody dispute; but what happens when the custody dispute involves a horse? You may be surprised to learn that the horse can be a hotly contested aspect in a divorce dispute. In fact just last month a Florida woman was arrested for intentionally driving through her ex-husband’s front gates and into his car, reportedly in retaliation for him getting her beloved horse in divorce.
There is a significant emotional component to owning and bonding with a horse, not to mention the lifestyle of owning and showing horses provide. On the other hand, there is an economic component to the ownership. The horse may be viewed as an asset worth quite a bit of money or as a liability that costs large amounts of money each month; often, the horse is both. Regardless of how you characterize the horse, if you are a horse owner going through a divorce (or newly engaged and planning pre-nuptials), you need to address ownership of your or your spouse’s horses.
Under the law, horses are personal property. Like all personal property, how the horse is treated in divorce will depend on whether the horse is marital property or not. If the horse is acquired during the marriage it will be considered marital property, even if it is the name of only one spouse (unless the acquisition was by way of gift or inheritance). If the horse was owned individually prior to the marriage, was inherited by either spouse, or a gift to an individual spouse, the horse may be considered separate property, not to be divided or otherwise accounted for in the divorce proceedings. However, if the value of the horse appreciated during marriage through active efforts by a spouse or the spouses (as opposed to passive or non-active appreciation), the appreciated value may be considered marital property.
When all or part of a horse is deemed marital property, the horse will need to be valued. The easiest way to value a horse is for the parties to agree as to the value. Often, agreement is not in the cards so the court will rely upon expert equine appraisals to value the horse based on factors such as purchase price, breeding, training, age, show record, manner and way of going, and health and soundness. The couple may agree to accept the decision of a single appraiser, or they may each hire separate appraisers to battle in court over the value.
Once, the horse is valued, how the horse will be handled can be decided by agreement or by the court. In some cases, the spouse desiring the horse may keep the horse, while the other desiring a different asset keeps that asset of similar value. In more difficult cases, the court may order that the horse be sold and the profit split. In those instances, the court may need to be educated as to what expenses are required to maintain and sell the horse so the court order can set forth how the parting couple will divide the costs of upkeep, commissions, and related sale expenses. In other instances, one spouse may buy out the other spouse’s ownership interest in the horse.
In other cases, the couple may decide to jointly own the horse post-divorce. This option tends to be most common when the horse is owned for the benefit of a child rider, and one spouse is heavily involved in the horse’s care while the other handles the financial and business aspects of the horse. This option is also exercised when one or both couples are professional riders, trainers or barn owners or otherwise use the horses for business. Regardless of why a divorcing couple would elect joint ownership, it is advisable to enter into a detailed agreement as to who will be responsible for the various aspects of ownership of the horse including the finances and the hands-on care, how ownership of the horse may be transferred in the future, and at what point the child may take over some of the responsibilities.
State laws govern distribution of personal property in divorce and enforcement of pre-nuptial agreements. For more information on how to protect your rights to ownership of your horse by pre-nuptial agreements or in divorce, please contact Karin Corbett at firstname.lastname@example.org .
ABOUT KARIN CORBETT
Karin Corbett is a business attorney and litigator who effectively prevents, resolves and litigates legal disputes for businesses and individuals alike in a variety of industries; but her focus is primarily in the construction & real estate and equine industries.
As a construction and real estate attorney, Ms. Corbett negotiates contracts, analyzes and advises clients on all types of business matters, litigates contract claims.
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