South Korean canine custody clash in court: Does dog belong to buyer or guardian?


A woman recently sued her son’s ex-girlfriend, claiming ownership of a dog which had lived with her for years but is legally owned by the ex-girlfriend. - PHOTO ILLUSTRATION: UNSPLASH via The Straits Times/ANN

SEOUL (The Korea Herald/ANN): A messy canine custody battle broke out in Seoul recently after a woman sued her son’s former girlfriend, claiming ownership of a golden retriever which had lived with her for years but is legally owned by the ex-girlfriend.

Seoul High Court recently ruled in favour of the ex-girlfriend, overturning an earlier ruling that granted the mother ownership of the animal.

“There is no evidence to believe that (the ex-girlfriend) explicitly expressed her will to give the dog to the plaintiff,” the court said in its ruling.

It also pointed out that after the plaintiff neutered the dog in November 2020, she told her son to inform his then girlfriend of the procedure, saying this is proof that the plaintiff thought the dog belonged to the defendant at the time.

The female golden retriever was adopted by the defendant in August 2017, but she had frequently asked the mother of her then boyfriend to take care of the dog since then.

In August 2020, she had the dog live permanently in the plaintiff’s home, saying her new home did not allow pets.

The dispute occurred when she broke up with the plaintiff’s son and took back the dog in February 2022. The plaintiff’s son did not protest against the woman’s action, which the appellate court said is another piece of evidence that the family regarded the defendant as the rightful owner.

The appellate court’s decision contrasted from a lower court ruling, which ordered the dog to be returned to the plaintiff.

“Unlike other property, a pet dog forms an emotional attachment (with people), and (the defendant) destroyed such attachment unilaterally by taking the dog. It is appropriate to believe that she gave up the ownership of the animal,” the lower court said in its verdict.

The lower court also pointed out that the plaintiff shouldered most of the costs in raising the dog, and her son had been registered as its owner.

But the appellate court said the registration of the dog is an administrative procedure, and is not directly related to ownership.

The plaintiff has filed an appeal, leaving the decision to the Supreme Court. - THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

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