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Determining pet custody in a divorce

There are many things to argue over in a divorce. This is, unfortunately, part of the reason why divorces can be complicated and stressful. Child custody is one of those very contentious issues. Parents spend long hours debating with each other and a judge about who should gain custody of the children and when. One issue entering the debate more and more often has to do with the custody, not of children, but pets.

A long-fought custody war over a small French bulldog provides a perfect example of the increasingly popular divorce debate, pet custody. A woman driving in Northern California spotted a dog on the side of the road. She pulled over and scooped up the French bulldog, who had a collar. When she called the number on his tag, she found it to be disconnected. After papering the area and discovering a microchip, she found the alleged owners, who lived in Los Angeles at the time.

Only a few days later, the Good Samaritan noticed signs posted around town asking where she lived. The marketer turned out to also claim ownership of the pup. Now the two sides are in the midst of a debate in court as to the ownership of the dog.

Pet ownership has become an increasingly complicated issue, as the law continues to recognize pets in a new way. Individuals can now leave assets to their pets in a will. Pets are protected by animal cruelty laws. Yet, courts have yet to catch up with the population of pet owners who would prefer a court to address their pets as one would in a child custody case.

Many courts still see pets as property. Thus, judges have wide latitude when it comes to deciding the fate of a pet in a divorce. Some courts may be willing to issue a shared custody ruling, but this is not always the case. A few judges will also look to evidence of emotional attachment and quality time spent with the pet to determine ownership.

What is important is that in the event of a pet dispute, full knowledge of the law is vital. A well informed party will more likely than not receive a favorable decision in court, including sole custody of a furry friend.

Source: Los Angeles Times, "Pet ownership disputes can be as messy as child custody cases," Ashley Powers, Aug. 22, 2012

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John T. Chamberlin, Attorney at Law
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