Pet Custody Battles- Page 2Published December 15, 2008
A divorcing duo in Arizona insisted that the judge write into the final orders that along with joint custody of the children, they would also share joint custody of the family cat and all the hamsters.
Even the famous fight over pets. Actress Kirsten Dunst and ex-lover Jake Gyllenhaal made news recently when they were embroiled in a custody battle over their German Shepherd, Lovey.
So, why are more and more couples willing to fight like cats and dogs over the family pet? Consider the findings of a national pet owner survey conducted by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) in 2004.
- 93 percent of pet owners would be willing to risk their own life for their pet;
- 83 percent of dog owners refer to themselves as "mommy" or "daddy";
- Nearly half carry pictures of their pet in their wallet.
There is some good news for pets in the middle of a break-up.
"Courts are beginning to reject a strict property analysis and consider the best interests of the animal in deciding which party will be awarded custody," writes Joyce Tischler, founding director of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, in an article urging lawyers to plan for more pet custody cases.
Along those lines, Williams adds that while custody is not determined on the pet's best interests alone, the court may consider these elements when equitably dividing the property and assets from a marriage.
In a case Williams remembers well, she awarded the family Golden Retriever to the wife, because the husband had purchased it for her as an incentive to stay sober after battling alcoholism.
In the divorce, the husband claimed the dog was his property because he purchased her. However, the wife had cared for the dog almost exclusively. And she hadn't had a drink in seven years. Williams awarded the canine 'property' to the wife.
If you find yourself in a custody battle over a pet, remember that animals are impacted much like children by the stress of a break-up. You need to watch for signs of anxiety, insecurity or confusion. Above all, try to put their best interests ahead of your own.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund (www.aldf.org) offers the following advice for those involved in a custody battle over companion animals:
- Seek the counsel of an attorney to advise a strategic approach to a resolution that serves in the pet's best interests.
- Begin to collect information to validate either proof of ownership or primary caregiver status.
- Ask your attorney about alternative dispute resolutions such as mediation or arbitration.