Pet Custody Cases Are On The Rise in America

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Pet Custody Cases Are On The Rise in America

September 23, 2013

If there is a child involved in a divorce, many judges will keep a pet with the child.  But what if the pet IS the child?


Breakups of marriages, same-sex unions, civil unions and domestic partnerships are on the rise and, in many cases, so are the fights for custody of the pets.  In fact, pet custody cases have grown exponentially in the last decade.  A while back, pet consultant, Steven May hired attorney, David Pisarra to handle his divorce. May and his ex had to work out custody of their daughter, three dogs, two cats and a parrot.  During the process, the May and Pisarra became good friends and teamed up to write the book, “What About Wally?” which is all about the co-parenting process.


For years, the United States legal system considered pets property, like your sofa or television.  But that is changing quickly.  More and more, judges are viewing pets more as they would children, recognizing the bond and attachment people have to their pets. “There is a shifting consciousness,” Pisarra told USA Today, “Pets are being given greater consideration under the law.” The shift also indicates that people are no longer embarrassed to fight for custody of a pet.  In the past they may have felt societal pressure that pet custody was not a big thing, but now the gloves are off and who gets Fluffy and Fido is an important part of the process.


There are no laws that govern visitation rights with an animal so couples have to work out the details for themselves.  And reaching a pet custody agreement without the help of an attorney can save you a lot of money.  Remember the key word.  Concession.


Have a plan.  Where are the pets during the move?  Schedule regular visitations, holidays and travel arrangements.  Co-arrange doggie day care or boarding, food, treats, grooming, and vet care.  Even discuss and agree upon end of life decisions ahead of time.  It may seem like a lot at the beginning but countless couples are making it work and work well.


There are extreme cases where vengeance plays a role in a domestic breakup.  There have been cases where one side of the couple had the other side’s dogs destroyed out of spite.  In years past, pets could not be protected from such violence.  However, because abusers can use pets to threaten victims, the laws have changed in Maine, New York, California and Illinois, with many other states looking into similar legislation. With any luck someday soon, pets will be governed and protected by legal statutes, much like there are for children.  pz

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