Custody disputes in cases of divorce aren’t limited to children any longer.
James Sullivan, a staff writer for The Boston Globe recently wrote a story about the growing trend for warring couples to battle over who gets to keep their pet or pets.
“For Gabriel Cheong, the most stubborn issue to resolve in one recent divorce case involved a mule,” Sullivan began. “The Quincy lawyer was accustomed to working with litigants who were at odds over custody of a family pet. But the breakup of a couple who owned a farm proved to be a real challenge. Cheong helped the ex-spouses find new homes for their horses after the dispute forced the sale of the farm. It was harder to ‘rehome’ the old mule.
“That might seem like an extreme example of a divorce settlement. In truth, however, few things will cause a parting couple to dig in their heels deeper than a mutually-cherished, four-legged companion, according to divorce lawyers.”
One result of this, according to the article, is a marked increase in attorneys recommending that clients include pets in prenuptial agreements.
“One thing that fuels the issue is that, in the eyes of the law, pets are considered property, not dependents,” the story stated. “Unlike child custody cases, a pet’s best interests are not typically considered in court. In the end, the family member who often suffers most in a divorce is the dog, say several experts.”
“If an animal is being used as a tool to get at each other, like people use children in custody (disputes),” Tracie Hotchner, the Vermont-based “Radio Pet Lady,” was quoted as saying. “They’re not putting the animal’s needs first.”
Sullivan went on to write that about 27 percent of those responding to a 2014 survey by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers noted an uptick in pet-custody fights over the past five years, with dogs being far and away the most disputed family pet.
“But some judges refuse to hear arguments about pet custody at all, say lawyers, leaving it to the two parties to settle on their own,” the article added. “As the law stands, it’s not the judge’s responsibility to determine which party was more invested in the health and well-being of the pet …”