The family pet is garnering more attention when divorce is in the air. In Hampshire and Hamden counties and throughout Massachusetts, the law treats pets as marital property when it comes to divorce, though many of the negotiations and proceedings seem more like child custody disputes than arguments about the living room furniture.
The onset of same-sex divorce as well as dissolutions of civil unions and domestic partnerships is said to be one reason for a perceived increase in what are termed pet custody cases. One survey of 1,600 attorneys by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers indicated a notable increase in pet-related issues since 2001. And its president believes that cases have continued to grow in the years since the study was completed.
There are also indications that the approach to pet custody issues of judges hearing divorce cases is changing as well. While the law in all 50 states continues to view pets as marital property, there is also a growing recognition that these forms of disputes often involve strong emotions and attachments. When a child is involved, the court normally ensures that the pet stays where the child principally resides. But when there are no children involved, courts seem more willing to accept that pets play an important and vital role in the personal lives of the litigants, thus requiring an effort to negotiate a fair and equitable agreement concerning custody of the family pet.
While most of these disputes are born out of love for the animal, there are few laws that apply. Several states have taken to include pets in domestic violence protection orders to guard the well-being of pets and other family members. But since few statutes apply, many of the issues surrounding pet custody require sensitive negotiation to reach a mutual agreement.
Source: The Washington Post, "Child may have an edge when custody of dog is at stake, but who gets dog when it is the child?" Feb. 28, 2012