Who Gets the Dog? Pet Custody and Divorce

Disclaimer: The materials and content within this podcast are intended as general information only and are not to be considered a substitute for professional legal advice or a consultation with a lawyer.

1. Family Law Tip of the Week

Now is not too early to start thinking about Spring and Summer break and how that time with the kids is going to be split between you and your ex. If there are deadlines by which you have to let the other party know what days or weeks you are going to be taking, let your ex know now. That way if there are disputes, you have plenty of time to work through them before vacation time rolls around.

2. Who Gets the Dog? Pet Custody and Divorce

This week, Debra Hamilton of Hamilton Law and Mediation talks with us about having peace and harmony when it comes to your pets during divorce.


Pets in Divorce…More Like Property or People?


When it comes to pets, most courts still create decisions about animals based on animals being characterized as “property.” Slowly, courts are recognizing that animals are no longer just considered “pets”; they are considered companions or parts of the family. To date, no court has ever gone as far as to give pet “custody” in the best interest of the pet.


When it comes to pets, the guideline courts now use is

“the best for all concerned.”


Litigating Pet Custody vs. Mediating Pet Custody


Debra refers to the Travis v. Murray case in which two women were divorcing and in dispute over pet custody. The judge in that case let the parties have a hearing on the issue of custody. The decision was heartbreaking; there was no way for the losing party to keep the pet in her life because the judge said he would not entertain joint custody or visitation for the pet.


If parties are able to reach an agreement outside of court in mediation, they can reach a better result than would be reached in court. The beauty of mediation is that it works for the parties and they know the ramifications of violating that agreement. When parties go through mediation, they are invested in the result/agreement.


If two parties are involved in high conflict, Debra uses video mediation. This takes a lot of heat out of the confrontation. Debra then steps away and talks about what each party appreciated about the other person with respect to the pet. This can soften the conflict.
In high conflict situations, it IS practically possible to share joint pet custody. There are doggie day cares that enable the parties to use this as the exchange point. The vet also works for exchanges, as well.


When people agree to joint custody of a pet, they have to figure out how to share expenses. Debra uses the last 2 or 3 years of the pet’s expenses to help with this calculation. For young pets, the parties use a projection and talk about how much each party might want to spend on maintenance of the pet. The expenses can usually be worked out in a way that resonates with both individuals.


Keep in mind that there are not only disputes over domestic pets, but there are also disputes over farm animals. In the case of farm animals, these animals may not only be a part of a business, but the owners could be emotionally attached, as well. Unfortunately, it is sometimes difficult for attorneys and judges to understand the value of an emotional connection as it relates to animals.


Tips for People Going Through a Divorce Where Pet Custody is an Issue


1. “Tell up front” about the pets.

In other words, tell your attorney and the court that pet custody is going to be an issue.


2. Do a reality check about what your life will look like after divorce if you do get to share custody of the pet.

In other words, if you are going to live in a complex where pets are not allowed (for example), does it really make sense to fight for custody?


3. Make an agreement that if the one who gets custody can’t care for the pet because of a change in circumstances, the other party gets the first right of refusal.


4. In terms of visitation plans, brainstorm and work out a schedule that is realistic for both parties. Don’t just argue for equal time if it won’t work for your lifestyle.


5. Include a provision in the mediation agreement that if circumstances change, the parties agree to go back to mediation to resolve those disputes.


You can find Debra at hamiltonlawandmediation.com. She mediates all over the country!

3. Thoughts From the Life Coach

Today, James gives some great thoughts on the upside to feeling deep negative emotion. Be sure and listen because its one of James’ best thoughts ever!

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