Who Gets the Dog? Pet Custody Battles on the Rise
Pets are Family -Furkids
According to the ASPCA and APPA, there are now 85+million cats and 77+ million dogs in the US, more than children apparently. Many people consider pets, especially dogs and cats, family. They travel with them, buy them birthday gifts, dress them and let them sleep on their beds. Dogs (and other pets) can provide companionship and health and wellness benefits to many.
We have been exploring dating and romance with dogs, and moving in with step-sibling dogs in our Award-Nominated Comedy Series Backseat Barkers and our Romantic Comedy Pippy Love. In both cases, young couples actually meet at the dog park like many couples today. There is a trust and connection between animal lovers.
When a relationship or marriage ends, the back and forth compromises of dividing up property and assets can be complex. Everyone knows that custody of the children can be the most stressful and emotional legal battle of them all. Today it seems couples are spending big money and effort on keeping their “fur children” as well. Animal custody battles can be pursued in regular civil trial court or through the use of a mediator. If the custody dispute arises during a divorce, the fight can be part of the divorce proceedings.
Pets used to fall under a possessions category, like a house or a car and possession is still an important factor. This means that monetary value could be assigned to them and paid by one client to another. However, anyone who owns a dog knows that pets are not mere belongings but committed friends, family members, and companions. For many, a simple cash equivalent is impossible to ascribe to a such a positive element in their lives. This changing attitude toward companion animals is reflected in an increased number of custody battles and in the willingness of judges and mediators to consider the welfare or best interests of the pet when determining which party should get custody.
The court may want to consider which party looked after the animal’s basic daily needs and legal requirements (food, shelter, physical care, exercise, grooming, flea control, license, vaccinations, microchip); who takes the animal to the vet; who provides for socialization (in the case of dogs); and who has the greatest ability to financially support the animal.
Pet custody cases can be entirely different in situations involving domestic abuse. Victims of domestic violence often refuse to leave the abuse situation because they do not want the family pet left with the abuser, who might harm the pet. Several states including California and Illinois passed legislation to protect animals in such domestic violence situations.
Pet Prenup? Sharing the Custody
With many couples having children later in their relationship, pets are often a first stepping stone towards parenthood. On average, a marriage that ends in divorce will have lasted 8 years, however, dogs live 10-13 years. For many pet owners, dividing up time with their beloved pets is the only way to reach an agreement on pet custody. Just like their human children, couples may choose to have the pets every other week, or even every other day. Care and vet bills can be divided up as well. A recent divorce case involved alimony for a pampered pooch! Nothing is too much for an animal lover.
However, judges may also take into consideration what is best for the pet. An elderly cat or dog may not do well with switching houses each week or weekend.
Celebrities With Dog Custody Battles
Most recently, Amber Heard and Johnny Depp have been talking to their lawyers about custody of their two Yorkies, Boo and Pistol. While Heard would like to keep Pistol, Depp wants full custody of both of them. The dogs became infamous when they were held by the Australian government when the couple attempted to bring them into the country.
Kate Moss was also involved in a pet custody battle during her split from Jamie Hince. Kate fell head over heels for Jamie’s dog, Archie, and felt that she had to continue being a part of the dog’s life.
Kristen Stewart filed to have complete custody of her and Robert Pattinson’s pups after he left them with friends while shooting a movie.
Hugh Hefner reportedly gave Crystal Harris a diamond ring and a Bentley during one of their splits, just so he could keep their puppy.
ALDF Legal Primer
We are not legal experts and nothing in this post should be construed as advice. If you are in a custody battle, please see a lawyer. However, we found this video interesting.