Increasingly, Americans view their pets as family members. We only need to look at the pet industry to see how manufacturers reinforce this feeling by marketing clothing, specialized kibble and treats, shampoos, conditioners, collars and leashes to keep Spot, Fluffy or Fido fashionable, hip and healthy.
So what happens when couples divorce?
Under the law, pets are personal property. As such, the courts will look to establish who owns the animal in the same manner they would decide on how to divide a patio set or the bedroom furniture.
However, in today's world where pets have become a more integral part of families, courts are beginning to broaden their views, especially when the custody issue affects dogs.
In some cases, the courts will go so far as to consider the issue as they would a child custody case and consider shared custody and visitation arrangements as well as alimony payments to the individual awarded with physical custody.
What if you didn't originally adopt or purchase your dog? There are other ways to substantiate that you should be the primary owner or caregiver of the animal. For example, if you've been paying for the animal's veterinarian and grooming expenses, purchasing its food, hiring trainers, and walking it everyday, you could make the case that you've been the primary caregiver.
You could even have neighbors testify on your behalf as proof that they've seen you walk your dog in the early morning or after work, or seen you with your dog at a nearby dog park.
Pet custody battles are increasingly common, but there's no guarantee that a judge in your jurisdiction will treat your beloved ferret as though it were child.
However, battles over family pets are increasing as the number of pets we own multiple. Look at these statistics gathered by William C. Root in his report Man's Best Friend: Property or Family Member? An Examination of the Legal Classification of Companion Animals and its Impact on Damages Recoverable for their Wrongful Death or Injury.
- Approximately 124 million dogs and cats live in U.S. households -- nearly one companion animal for every two Americans.
- 45% of dog guardians or owners claimed that they took their companion animals on vacation.
- 50% of companion animal owners would be "very likely" to risk their lives for their animal, and another 33% said they would be "somewhat likely" to risk their lives.
- If stranded on a desert island, more than 50% of companion animal owners would prefer the company of a cat or a dog to that of a human
As our emotional attachment grows for our pets, the courts must increasingly look upon companion animals more akin to children and less as pieces of property.
California's child custody laws are constantly shifting to accommodate the needs of families. It is vital to retain the support and counsel of a knowledgeable child custody lawyer that will review your options and help you determine the best course of action to protect your rights and the best interests of your children.Attorney James Sansone will take the time to understand your needs and the potential challenges that may lead to dispute, presenting your options and helping to determine the best approach to ensure a favorable outcome.