Stevens v. Grey
303 U.Va. 294 (2019)
Justice ELICEGUI delivered the opinion of a unanimous Court.
After a messy breakup, George Grey and Alex Stevens brought suit in the Court of Petty Breakups. That Court misapplied the Petty Law of the Land, resulting in an inaccurate division of property and assets. This Court applied the fairness doctrine and best interests of the (fur) child to reach an appropriate division of assets.
Petitioner George Grey and Respondent Alex Stevens began dating during their first semester 1L year. Stevens and Grey became fast friends; their relationship started off strictly platonic, because they were both in long-distance relationships with other people. After long nights struggling over proximate cause and the Erie doctrine, though, Stevens and Grey could not deny the chemistry between them. Stevens broke up with her boyfriend and Grey broke up with his girlfriend.
Because Stevens and Grey started dating so early into their 1L year, their life at UVA became deeply intertwined. They had the same friend group, classes, and study habits. They went to the same parties and bars. Second semester, Stevens and Grey arranged to take one of their two electives together—Family Law. While taking Family Law, Stevens and Grey learned about prenuptial agreements and became concerned about what would happen if they ever broke up. They decided to draft a prenup to divide their friends and assets in case they divorced.
Stevens and Grey continued to date happily. They spent 2L summer working in the D.C. office of Grey and Sloan LLP, and both received offers to return after graduation. When they returned to Charlottesville, they moved into a two-bedroom apartment together at the Jeffersonian. In October, they adopted a rescue Corgi named Toast.
Unfortunately, though, the stress of living together and caring for Toast took a toll on Stevens and Grey’s relationship. They broke up in January of their 3L year. Stevens asked Grey to follow the terms of their prenup, move out of their apartment, and give her Toast. Grey refused, and counter-offered that Stevens should leave the apartment and give him the dog. Thereafter, they lived for three weeks in a tense silence, only communicating when they had to decide who would feed the dog or take her for a walk.
Unable to persist in that untenable state, Stevens took the case to the Court of Petty Breakups to get a judgement enforcing the prenup and giving her custody of Toast. Stevens argued that the prenup was enforceable, because it was entered into by two equally savvy-1Ls. Stevens argues she was the rightful owner of the dog because she picked up Toast’s poop more often and that she should get to keep the apartment because it would be more of a hassle for her to move. On the other hand, Grey could easily move in with his friend O’Malley. The Court of Petty Breakups agreed. It found the prenup agreement enforceable, gave Stevens custody of Toast, as per the terms of the prenup, and issued a petty judicial decree, declaring that “Grey so totally had to get out of the apartment.”
Grey appeals that decision to this Court. He argues that the prenup agreement is not enforceable because the couple made the agreement while already dating and did not consult a savvier, neutral 3L who actually knew about the Law School, law, and life. He asks this Court to apply the equitable doctrine of laches and, under that approach, give him custody of everything because he “has always been nicer than Stevens and should be rewarded for that.”
While this Court will not use an ancient common law remedy to totally screw over Stevens, we do agree that the Court of Petty Breakups misapplied the petty law and did not reach the proper outcome.
We agree with Grey and find that the prenup is unenforceable because it was entered into by parties that basically knew nothing while they were already dating. Everyone knows that second semester 1Ls haven’t learned property yet and don’t even know about the fertile octogenarian. How can they be expected to come to a fair division of ScoCo time? Or dog custody? In situations such as this, each party has a duty to consult an impartial, savvier 3L or one of his or her PAs. That disinterested third party can advise the 1L about life at UVA and how they should fairly divide up the power of the 3L couches in the future. Because the parties did not do this, this Court cannot enforce the prenup.
This Court will apply the fairness doctrine to equitably divide up the parties’ assets and will look to the best interests of the (fur) child to decide who receives custody of Toast. First, turning to the parties’ friends, this Court is not in a position to divide up the couple’s section mates evenly or fairly. How are we supposed to know who’s good at softball and who’s fun to go out with? Instead, the parties shall hold a friend draft, to take place two weeks from now, where they will take turns selecting friends to keep. If the friends would rather be on the other team, they may trade among themselves to come to a better breakdown.
This Court thinks it is only fair that one party get the apartment and one party get the dog. Whoever has to deal with the hassle of moving should at least get to keep the joy of a fluffy potato dog. Applying the best interests of the (fur) child standard, Stevens is the rightful owner of Toast. She is the one who takes Toast for walks, picks up her poop, and orders her dog food. Grey is responsible for taking Toast to the vet, but that is an infrequent duty and does not approach the level of hands-on responsibility that Stevens has. Therefore, Grey will keep the apartment. He must assist Stevens in finding a new place to live and cannot kick her out before she does, though.
Finally, applying the fairness doctrine to the school, this Court finds there is no truly even way to divide ScoCo or classes to keep the parties entirely separate. Instead, Grey will get the exclusive right to be in the ScoCo dining area and Stevens will get the exclusive right to be in the atrium. Stevens will get the Gunner Pit and Grey will get the second floor of the library. This Court declines to impose a rule on class selection, but does encourage the parties to sit far apart if they happen to find themselves in the same class.
Breakups are no fun, but the Court of Petty Breakups is here to smooth things over and divide assets (even if that involves divvying up beanie babies on the courtroom floor). The Court shall apply the fairness doctrine and best interests of the (fur) child to reach conclusions in the best interests of the parties and any pets involved. The judgment of the Court of Petty Breakups is VACATED and the case of Stevens v. Grey is REMANDED for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
It is so ordered.