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The Case of Teddy Bear: A Legal Tug of War Over a Pomeranian

The Case of Teddy Bear: A Legal Tug of War Over a Pomeranian

by Nathaniel Butzke 

Photo by Fred Moon on Unsplash
The Massachusetts Appeals Court recently made a notable decision in an intriguing legal battle involving former romantic partners and a Pomeranian named Teddy Bear. The case, Lyman v. Lanser, takes us through the complexities of shared possession of a jointly owned pet. The heart of the dispute was whether the parties’ agreement to share Teddy Bear equally could be legally enforced, an agreement similar to custody arrangements that we typically see concerning children.

    Lyman and Lanser's story began with a mutual decision to purchase Teddy Bear in 2018. They followed a pattern of shared pet ownership and agreement to share custody should they separate. When the relationship ended in 2021, they managed to share Teddy Bear amicably. The conflict escalated when Lanser ceased communication and denied Lyman access to Teddy Bear, prompting legal action.

    The Superior Court initially granted a preliminary injunction in favor of Lyman, mandating alternating two-week periods of possession for each party. However, a single justice vacated this decision, raising questions about the legal status of pets and the enforceability of personal property agreements. Specifically, the usage of the term “shared custody” raised alarm bells, and the appeals court emphasized a warning to future counsel about the charge behind those words as they are commonly used only when referring to child custody arrangements, thereby suggesting that a best practice for pet sharing arrangements would be to avoid the term “custody” altogether. 

    The Appeals Court, led by Judge Sacks, reversed the single justice’s order, emphasizing that domestic animals, while legally considered personal property, hold a unique status that can warrant specific performance of an agreement. This decision underscores the recognition of pets as more than just inanimate objects, acknowledging their sentimental value and the irreplaceable companionship they offer.

    The Appeals Court weighed several legal considerations, including the adequacy of damages as a remedy and the practical challenges of enforcing shared pet possession agreements. While acknowledging the potential for such disputes to strain judicial resources (a reason often given by Probate and Family Court judges to exclude pet-sharing arrangements in divorce agreements), the court found that, in this case, the preliminary enforcement of the parties' pre-existing agreement was justified.  

    This decision does not transform pets into children in the eyes of the law but affirms that agreements concerning their shared possession can be subject to specific performance. The case of Teddy Bear is a fascinating example of how the legal system navigates the evolving recognition of pets' special place in our lives and relationships.  Even though the Appeals Court explicitly stated: “Nor should anything in our decision be construed as altering the status of pets in divorce proceedings,” it’s hard to reconcile this exclusion with the right of divorcing parties to create enforceable contracts for other property rights.  If non-married couples can create enforceable pet-sharing contracts, does Lyman v. Lanser open the door for married and divorcing couples to do the same?  We’ll have to wait and see how Probate & Family Court judges interpret this decision but in the mean-time consider this practice tip if you're trying to include pet provisions in a divorce agreement.

DIVORCE AGREEMENT DRAFTING TIP from Justin Kelsey of Gray Jay Endeavors, LLC

For pet related provisions consider including language that mirrors the court's language in Lyman v. Lanser, using the terms "joint property" and "shared possession" and avoiding the terms "custody" or "parenting plan".  There are some Probate & Family Court judges who won't approve pet sharing sections of and agreement and require them to be removed, but using enforceable language at least makes it more likely a Judge will consider it.  Here is some sample language from the Separation Agreement template available to subscribers of Gray Jay Endeavors Forms:

PLAN FOR OWNERSHIP OF _______________: In consideration of the distribution of other benefits to each party under the terms of this Agreement, ___________ and ___________ agree as follows:

a. Taking into account the value to both ___________ and ___________ of their pet’s affection and company, they both agree that ___________ will be their shared and joint property and that they intend to create an enforceable agreement for shared possession as follows:

i. ___________ and ___________ will schedule time with ___________ upon such a schedule and under such circumstances as they agree upon or as further ordered by the court, taking into consideration the needs of the pet and the work schedules of ___________ and ___________, and with a default controlling schedule as follows:

b. EXPENSES: ___________ and ___________ will [Describe the Split (e.g. share equally 50/50, split __% by ________ and ___% by ________, etc.)] the following regular expenses of the pet(s) until [Describe agreed upon endpoint (e.g. agreed upon date, their death, etc.)]:


i. veterinary costs,

ii. food, and

iii. ___________

___________ and ___________ will discuss any expenses over $[Enter expenses threshold] in advance, and if ___________ or ___________ doesn’t agree to the expense, then [Describe the Split (e.g. share equally 50/50, split __% by ________ and ___% by ________, etc.)].

If a party is required to contribute to an expense under this section, ___________ and ___________ will cooperate to pay expenses directly when possible. If a party paid the original expense in full, they will bill [Describe frequency] for the other party for that party’s contribution in writing (e-mail or text is sufficient), and the other party will pay the expense within [Describe frequency] days of receipt of a copy of the bill/receipt.

[Consider if there are any outstanding liabilities that need to be addressed separately.]

Gray Jay Endeavors, LLC provides Separation Agreement Templates and Massachusetts divorce forms as a resource for professionals and divorcing couples.  If you are a professional who wants to learn more about our forms subscriptions visit  



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