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VIC Sue for Ownership of a Horse?

Discussion in 'Property Law Forum' started by Lena, 2 May 2015.

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  1. Lena

    Lena Member

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    Hi, I have been working with my aunt's horse for the last four years. Although she has paid for the upkeep of the horse, I was working unofficially for her, for my room, board, access to the horse and gear and riding lessons. My relationship with her has broken down and I am wanting to keep the horse, or at least keep having access and control over what happens to him, even if I don't actually own him on paper. Do I have any legal rights in this matter?

    There are many other factors involved that I feel give me a right to the horse. I can prove that in practice she gave me responsibility for him, and it is therefore up to me to decide whether I give that responsibility back to her, and the onus is on her to make a case for me to not continue having responsibility for him. She can't just take him away, and if she can, does this mean I can sue her? Her main reason for taking the horse back is because i have a mental illness, mostly related to the difficulties I have in maintaining a relationship with her, and I don't think she can provide any evidence that I can't continue being responsible for him, although she would certainly try to make a case that I am not fit to own him.
     
  2. Sarah J

    Sarah J Well-Known Member

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    Hi Lena,

    Under Australian law, animals are considered property (like a car or painting. Your aunt appears to be the legal owner. For property (other than land) there is the concept of absolute property which means only one person can have an interest it at any one time (possession vs. ownership). Your argument that she allowed you responsibility and therefore it is up to her to prove she can take this responsibility away is not a legal argument in court. If you initiate an action, you bear the burden to proving that you have a better interest in the horse than your aunt. However, if your aunt has papers to show that she is the legal owner of the horse, you will unlikely prove better ownership as legal owner takes priority. Perhaps you could argue that you contributed effort and money into the maintenance of the horse, and therefore, have some interest in it and should be compensated accordingly. But at the end of the day, if this was a car, and your aunt allowed you to drive it, wax it, fuel it and keep it running, irrespective of your feelings toward the car, your aunt is still the owner of the car and is still permitted to restrict your access to it.

    If you want to read up on the legal status of animals in Australia, here is an article I found online: Animals as Property under the Law
     
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  3. Lena

    Lena Member

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    Thank you very much for your response. Although I haven't yet read the article that you provided a link for, it seems as if the law doesn't at all consider the emotional connection that people have with their pets and the place that the animal has in a family. For me, my horse is like my child that I need to protect. Are you saying that the most I could hope to get is monetary compensation for my time and reinbursement for any money I contributed? He will be well cared for with my aunt once I leave, she looks after all her animals well... however, it is his schooling I am interested in and this is what I could provide for him, as well as equivalent physical needs i.e responsible horse ownership. Possibly the other thing I could argue is that because of the schooling I have contributed, he is a much more valuable horse now than when I started with him. But its not the money I want!!!! Please help me find another angle :) Thank you kindly.
     
  4. Sarah J

    Sarah J Well-Known Member

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    Hi Lena,

    There is much debate as to whether animals should be treated as property under the law. There appears to be some leeway with domestic pets (i.e. cats and dogs), especially in the US (e.g. family custody battles) but most of the matters are settled out of court because at the moment, an animal is a piece of property. To classify an animal otherwise would have political and other consequences (e.g. animal rights). There is much academic debate and I understand that you have a genuine attachment to the horse, like someone would a friend or family member, but unfortunately, it is not yet recognised in court.
     

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