As more people in New Jersey and around the country are waiting to have children when they are older and more households are adopting pets, it isn’t a surprise that there’s been an increase in divorcing couples fighting over who gets to keep the animals. Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas publicly fought over their dogs during their divorce, much to the amusement of many people who used the opportunity to poke fun at the couple online. But regardless of what some think, it is apparent that the actors aren’t the only ones who are going to court to get custody of their pets.
One California attorney said that she’s seen couples battle over everything from hearing aids to their pets, and that some people treat their pets better than kids. The problem is that family law hasn’t caught up to the needs of pet owners. Most courts treat pets as personal property, like someone’s couch or table. As a result, many judges use a reason not to mediate spouses’ concerns about animals, instead asking how much the pet is worth to each party and letting them bid.
However, some judges are sympathetic and will listen to testimony about what is best for the pet and who the pet has bonded with the most. Another California attorney said that she recommends couples who are going to buy a pet together create a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement that clearly states who gets the animal in the event of a divorce. This could ensure pets go to the person who is their primary caretaker.
Divorce gives people a fresh start but before that can happen people need to agree on how to divide assets, which could include pets. A family law attorney could assist in the negotiation of an appropriate property settlement agreement to avoid placing the decision in the hands of a judge.
Source: The Daily Beast, “Divorce Is Going to the Dogs, Literally“, Keli Goff, June 20, 2014