Pet Custody Cases on the Rise

A poll of 1,500 members of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) indicated that 25 per cent saw an increase in pet custody issues in the past year.

While pet custody cases are not an everyday occurrence, far too many spouses attempt to initiate these disputes as a negotiating strategy, often believing that they can use the animal as a kind of bargaining chip.

While pet custody cases are not an everyday occurrence, far too many spouses attempt to initiate these disputes as a negotiating strategy, often believing that they can use the animal as a kind of bargaining chip.

In these cases, a judge has had to determine who gets “custody” of the dog and whether another party has a right to visit the dog even after a marriage ends. State courts have taken different approaches to answer these questions.

Dogs scored the top spot as the most disputed family animal with a clear majority of 88 percent; cats clawed to a distant second with a 5 percent total.

Overall, 27% of the AAML respondents reported an increase in the number of couples fighting over the custody of a pet during the past five years.  Dogs and cats represented the two animals most commonly disputed, but the choice “other” came in third at 6% and horses galloped to fourth with a 1% total.  Some of the AAML attorneys named an iguana, python, African grey parrot, and even a giant 130-pound turtle, as pets in disputes.

“While pet custody cases are not an everyday occurrence, far too many spouses attempt to initiate these disputes as a negotiating strategy, often believing that they can use the animal as a kind of bargaining chip.  This tactic is usually not effective and can come back to ‘bite’ the antagonist throughout the divorce process.” said Maria Cognetti, president of the AAML.  “When it comes to a pet, it is often obvious which of the spouses has the strongest emotional bond.”

In addition, 22% of the attorneys have said that courts are more frequently allowing pet custody cases and 20% cited an increase in courts deeming pets to be an asset during a divorce.

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