Soon-to-be ex spouses are approaching family divorce lawyers with an unexpected impasse: an increasing number of couples are unable to reach agreements about who should get custody of pets — and whether ex-partners should be able to continue visiting pets after a split. Many clients expect actions and legal recourse equitable to mediation for child custody. Here’s courts are handling it:
Pets are Not Kids, Florida Judge Says
Some courts have very little patience for disputes over pets. Judges remind ex spouses that they are not working with child custody attorneys. A 1995 Florida court ruling was unapologetic: “Determinations as to custody and visitation lead to continuing enforcement and supervision problems. … Our courts are overwhelmed with the supervision of custody, visitation, and support matters related to the … protection of our children. We cannot undertake the same responsibility as to animals.”
Should Courts Reconsider?
Although the Florida ruling set a precedent for treating pets as assets or objects, many disagree. The Huffington Post weighs in, “More couples have fewer children than a generation or two ago and view their pets as their kids or companions, owners pay $2,000 for an orthopedist to reconstruct a dog’s knee; designers such as Isaac Mizrahi create pink trench coats and white tulle bridal dresses for the fashion-conscious canine whose owner shops at Target, and high-end pet stores sell rhinestone-studded dog collars, peanut butter biscotti instead of run-of-the-mill dog treats, and strollers for the walking-averse pampered pooch.”
Even though most owners aren’t dressing dogs up in tulle, the majority of Americans think of pets as a member of the family. It may seem extreme to talk to a custody lawyer, but many end up rescinding judgement once they are in the same position.
Almost all U.S. households consider pets part of the family. Does that mean divorce and family courts should treat them that way, too? Some judges say child custody attorneys are already too busy; others may concede that pets play an increasingly important role — especially for couples without children. Get more on this here.