“One of the saddest parts of a divorce is this question,” said family law attorney Glen Rabenn in Seal Beach, Calif.: “Who keeps the family pet? This is often a deeply emotional aspect of a divorce, and it is difficult to come to a compromise because both parties love the animal.
This problem was encountered by “Mary Anne” and her husband, “Justin”, who worked together as architects. Work – in the past, because “COVID destroyed our business and put so much pressure on our marriage that it fell apart,” they both explained on a phone call.
“You’ve been referred to as Ann Landers / Dear Abby of the legal world, and we thought maybe you could help us with a difficult problem, the care of our beloved little Chihuahua,” said Mary Anne.
The couple’s call couldn’t have come at a better time than the day before, I discussed these same issues with Rabenn and lawyer Barbara J. Gislason of Fridley, Minn., Who is internationally recognized as a trailblazer. animal rights.
She has written a book on this subject for the Family Law Section of the American Bar Association titled Pets and Custody Act: Establishing Dignified and Fair Case Law for the Evolving Family. She explores the cultural role of animals in our lives, asks important questions about our treatment of animals, and explains how the law should be applied in a way that is in the best interests of humans and animals.
“Historically,” explains Gislason, “animals – pets – were considered property, just like furniture in your home. In the event of a divorce, the courts would look into who paid the animal and its vet bills or registration fees and assign it to that person, regardless of the spouse’s degree of attachment to them.
“As anyone who has owned a dog or a cat knows, we love these animals, and it has nothing to do with who bought or paid for the food and their health care. So when the courts split property of a couple, often very sad and unfair results occurred.But then, several years ago, judges in family courts and state legislatures began to view pets as more than simple goods. “
As a lawyer, I lived in divorce court for 30 years and saw with my own eyes how more difficult handling pet custody can be than custody litigation. of a child. Thank goodness this is changing at a rapid rate, as three states – Alaska, Illinois, and California – allow family court judges to review custody of animals the same way they do with children.
“Judges in these states are now required to consider the welfare of the animal and answer this question: What is in the best interest of the animal? “ Gislason observes, adding: “It’s always best for the parties to avoid a horrific and costly brawl in court and approach custody – and shared custody – with what is best for the best in mind. pet.
I explained this to my readers, telling them to imagine themselves in court, knowing that the judge has the discretion to decide who the Chihuahua is awarded to. Lawyer Gislason suggests that you think about how the judge will feel after hearing one or both lawyers do the following:
- Introduce one of you as a kind person devoted to the dog, offering examples of loving care shown and arguing that the other was much less interested in the dog.
- Point out that her client paid all veterinary expenses for the animal.
- That the other person ignored or neglected the animal.
- That your argument is motivated by revenge. Judges do not reward pet owners in this situation.
“You don’t really want that kind of a fight, do you?” The two agreed they didn’t.
“So how do we solve this? ” they asked.
Glen Rabenn offers a five-step solution:
- Have a detailed written agreement. Err on the side of being too specific.
- It should contain a weekly on-call schedule and indicate who makes important medical decisions, including ultimately regarding the slaughter of the animal.
- Can you take the animal outside of your state? Think about the same things as a child.
- Don’t leave things to chance.
- If you have a disagreement, specify the mediation or family members agreed to decide the issue.
Gislason agrees, adding:
“Be courteous to each other and try to talk about it. Sometimes giving up something else you want in the marital conflict helps.“ I’ll take the dog and you the mountain bike. ”
She concludes with this recommendation:
“Encourage family members to lean on the person trying to take the other person’s dog. Family members usually know who the parties are considered to own the animal, and I encourage them to get involved in resolving the issue.