Pet Custody and Divorce
Pet custody is a recent topic of interest in family law as it is an evolving topic. According to a survey in 2014 by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, there has been a 27 percent increase in pet custody cases over the five previous years. Traditionally, the standard practice for years has been to treat pets as property, but there has been a more recent trend of treating pets similar to how children are treated in a marriage.
The Gigi Case
Take the case of Gigi and her human parents. A notorious case in San Diego (CA) that gained national headlines featured a pointer-greyhound mix named Gigi. She was caught up in the middle of a contentious divorce between Dr. Stanley and Linda Perkins. When they were divorced they were granted joint custody of Gigi. Unfortunately, neither spouse was satisfied with the arrangement. Two years and $150,000 in legal fees later, Ms. Perkins was ultimately awarded sole custody in 2000.
The Family Pet: An Asset or an Expense?
Many experienced custody attorneys feel that a family pet is simply another issue for people to fight over during a divorce. It can also be another way for one spouse to injure another spouse emotionally and financially. It is not uncommon for one spouse to threaten relinquishment of the pet to an animal shelter as a tactic to negotiate a better divorce settlement.
Pet care can also become an issue when the pet is considered more of an expense than asset as they require food, maintenance and veterinary care. If one spouse does not want to provide support of the pet they may try to get rid of it. In that scenario, the other spouse could use the Family Law Automatic Temporary Restraining Orders to block the abandonment of the pet.
Another problematic situation can happen when one spouse abandons pets in the family residence when relocating. The spouse who remains in the home may want the pets removed to discontinue the utilities while the other spouse is away for several months. This can lead to a dispute about financial responsibility for maintaining the space and utilities for the housing the animals.
A Judge’s Viewpoint
Most family law judges place a certain value on the emotional connection people have with their pets. Courts have awarded shared custody, visitation and even alimony payments to pet owners. Starting about 15 years ago, additional states have begun allowing people to leave estates or trusts to care for their pets.
In complex cases involving a family pet, it is good idea to consult with a local divorce attorney to create an agreement that protects both spouses as well as their four-legged family member.
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To help clients better understand their options in divorce, including pet custody, our divorce attorney offers free consultations. To schedule your free consultation call us at (916) 250-1610 Monday through Saturday.