The terms of a visitation agreement for a divorcing couple’s dogs was enforceable as written, even if the husband did a poor job caring for the pets, a state supreme court recently ruled.
Before Diane and Paul Giarrusso divorced in 2017, they entered a marital settlement giving ownership and control of their greyhound and their chihuahua to Diane but giving Paul the right to have them every week from Tuesday morning to Thursday morning. The agreement was never officially merged into the final divorce decree, though it was incorporated by reference.
After a few months, Diane stopped the visits. Paul took her to family court, seeking to enforce the visitation schedule.
Diane countered by arguing that Paul did a lousy job caring for the dogs, and that he tried keeping them from her, in violation of the agreement. She pointed to a day when the greyhound allegedly went missing at Paul’s house, causing her to become so upset and hysterical that she was vomiting by the side of the road during the search effort. This rendered the visitation provision inequitable, she argued.
But a family court judge ruled that the visitation provision was fully enforceable as written and that Diane could not keep the dogs away from her ex. Specifically, the court viewed the agreement as a contract expressing both parties’ rights to the dogs that the court could not alter, absent a mistake on both parties’ parts.
The R.I. Supreme Court affirmed, emphasizing that it is not a court’s job to set aside a settlement agreement just because one party no longer wants to be bound.
The lesson is to think twice before agreeing to share your pets with your ex and to talk to a good family lawyer to make sure any such agreement has conditions that can void it.