Judge: Castle Rock woman owns $12,000 violin but daughter gets custody
A family fight over a prized violin could make other Colorado parents think twice before loaning their children a car, a computer or other items of value for very long.
A Douglas County court said Castle Rock mother Carol Rist owns the disputed $12,000 violin but gave custody of the instrument to her adult daughter in a lawsuit that followed a personal falling-out between the two.
The reasons were twofold: The daughter, a professional musician, had used the violin ever since Rist purchased it in 1999. At one point after the fight, Rist agreed to let her daughter use the instrument if she paid for insurance, but she changed her mind after the young woman bought a policy.
Dividing ownership of an item and the right to possess it appears to be a novel concept for anything but land in Colorado, according to Rist’s attorney.
Rist said she just wants to warn other parents with adult children.
“This has been a hard lesson to learn,” said the 65-year-old homemaker. “If you’re going to lend anything to your kids, you have to make sure it’s not a gift — it’s a loan. Put it in writing.”
Monument attorney Debra DeRee took on Rist’s case after the county court decision and after an appeal to a district court failed. She’s now petitioning the state Supreme Court to take up a case she said could have broad and unintended consequences for Colorado property law.
The state’s highest court hasn’t yet said whether it will consider it.
“This ruling opens up a can of worms. Do you give your kid a car to use during high school and decide you want to sell it but can’t?” said DeRee. “Who is the beneficiary of the insurance policy? What happens upon Mom’s death? It’s absolutely bizarre.”
The Rist family home houses a few guitars, a flute, a didgeridoo, a fiddle and a piano. From very young ages, the children were encouraged to pursue musical interests, said son Lee Rist, who backs his mom in the dispute.
“We’re all music lovers,” he said. “We all play.”
Carol Rist purchased the Nikolai Tambovsky-made instrument in 1999 for $4,900 and bought five other violins over the years.
Her daughter lived with her and used the instrument — first while taking lessons and later as a professional musician in a John Denver tribute band — though Rist paid to insure it and listed the violin in her will.
Then the pair had a falling-out and Amanda Rist, now 28, left the home.
Mom successfully sued daughter for unpaid bills and rent. And the daughter sued her mother for the violin.
Amanda Rist declined to comment for this story, but in court documents she claimed the violin was a gift and that she is its true owner.
Douglas County Court Judge Susanna Meissner-Cutler wasn’t convinced of that but didn’t want to deprive Amanda Rist of its use.
“The court finds that it’s a very unusual situation, and a very unfortunate situation, because I can honestly say that most parents, when they buy their child a violin to use, that that violin becomes that child’s, particularly when they continue to use it,” Meissner-Cutler said, according to court transcripts. “The court finds that the violin belongs to Carol Rist, but that that violin is given to the use of Amanda as long as she plays and uses that violin.”
A Douglas County District Court later upheld the lower court’s decision, relying on a case that involved a disputed piece of real estate.
There are a bundle of rights associated with landownership: water rights, mineral rights, leasing rights, possession and use, and more. So, to lose the right to possession doesn’t mean losing all rights of ownership.
But DeRee says household items have historically been treated differently.
“I don’t see how you can do that with personal property,” she said. “You either own it or you don’t.”