How far would you go to keep your dog? Apparently, pushing the limits to the point of being sent to jail isn’t too far for a Leon County gentleman. In the recent Florida 1st District Court of Appeal decision of Diaz de la Portilla v. Florida, an individual with more money than common sense pushed an issue well beyond reason when fighting over his being ordered to turn over a pet dog to his estranged wife. This opinion illustrates the extremes that people will take in arguing over pets.
It has long been established in Florida that pets are property and not subject to “time-sharing” or “custody disputes.” The case of Bennett vs. Bennett established that. However, what happens when one spouse is ordered to turnover a pet to the other spouse as part of the equitable distribution of assets? In this particular case, Mr. Diaz de la Portilla continued to ignore court orders requiring him to turn the pet over to his ex-wife. How much he spent in attorneys’ fees is beyond me, but from a review of this opinion, I would estimate he spent well over $50,000 fighting over this issue.
The problem was that he just wouldn’t give up. Time and again he was ordered to turn the dog over to his wife. In fact, at the contempt hearing in which he was going to be sent to jail for refusing to abide by prior court orders, he simply failed to appear. His lawyers’ argument at a later hearing was that the order scheduling the hearing did not require him to appear. So his attorney appeared on his behalf and argued his position. This appellate court decision actually turns on whether persons can be held in direct criminal contempt for failing to appear at a contempt hearing. This is somewhat different than typical civil contempt cases in which a person shows up at a hearing and does something that violated a court order.
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