Fighting Over Custody of Our Dog

Dogs are the animals that people fight over most when going through a divorce. In fact, some 88 percent of custody battles involving pets are over dogs, according to a recent survey of lawyers from the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML). Ruff!

Some states allow pet custody disputes, while others do not recognize the legal standing of pets. This means that in those latter states, animals are considered personal property, in the same way that a couch or a chair is property. But that’s not quite how people who have animals feel — at all.

In New York, Manhattan Judge Matthew Cooper notes, “People who love their dogs almost always love them forever… but with divorce rates at record highs, the same cannot always be said for those who marry.”

He will soon hear a divorcing couple’s arguments regarding who should get sole custody of their 2-year-old miniature dachshund named Joey. It will be New York’s first pet custody case to be tried in the courts. Kansas, on the other hand, won’t get involved with pet custody cases. Alabama, however, recently awarded custody of a dog named Preston to only one spouse after taking into careful consideration what was in the animal’s best interests. This is the standard that is used to determine which parent gets custody of children in divorce.

Increasingly, the courts are recognizing the special, beloved place that pets have in our families. As a recent survey reported, about 27 percent of matrimonial lawyers from the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers have seen an increase in pet custody cases in the past several years. It looks like this will increasingly be an issue as time goes on.

When you are involved in a pet custody dispute, it becomes increasingly important to determine if the fight is because of the divorce or because both of you truly want to have full custody of the pet. The fighting, as you well know, can be very stressful, not just on you, but on your dog as well.

Ask yourself what’s in the best interests of your dog? Who will be able to provide the best home for the animal, including the most space for running, exercise and taking care of the pet’s basic needs? If you are going for full custody, how do you see yourself being able to reliably care for the animal if you are working full-time or if you travel? Do you already have your hands full with an over-the-top work schedule? Then maybe shared custody is best. What are your concerns about sharing custody with your soon-to-be ex? Has your spouse been abusive or neglectful of the animal? If this is the case, you will want to document it as much as possible.

There are ways your attorney can argue that awarding you custody is in the best interests of the animal in question. Make sure you discuss your concerns and find out whether your attorney has experience representing clients involved in dog custody disputes.

Contact the Law Office of Len Conner & Associates

At the Law Office of Len Conner & Associates, we offer a free initial consultation in all family law matters, including issues relating to animal custody in a divorce. Send us an e-mail or call our office at (972) 445-1500 or (817) 288-4168 if you’re in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Or call us toll free at (877) 613-5800 for an appointment.

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