Protecting pets during divorce

New Jersey residents who are fans of actors Antonio Banderas or Melanie Griffith may have heard that Griffith is seeking custody of the couple's three dogs in divorce proceedings. The conflict mirrors one that is happening in divorces across the country. Custody of pets is becoming an increasingly contentious point when two people split.

Legally, pets have the same status as any other piece of property. However, some judges are sympathetic to the position of pet owners and will attempt to make a decision based on factors such as how bonded a pet is to an individual.

Individuals going into a marriage who are concerned about their pets can include the pets in a prenuptial agreement. It is also possible to make a postnuptial agreement regarding custody in the case of a divorce for pets that couples obtain together.

Many cases offer cautionary tales. One man spent $60,000 trying to get his dog back from his girlfriend. Another woman fought for custody of her dog for three years, only for him to die months later in what her attorney deemed suspicious circumstances. Some attorneys can cite cases of contentious divorces resulting in animal abuse.

In New York in 2013, a judge ruled for the first time that oral arguments could be heard from a divorcing couple over the fate of the pet. The case was eventually settled out of court, but the ruling suggests that eventually, the legal system may began to shift in favor of regarding pets as something more valuable than the furniture or cars that a couple owns. In the meantime, individuals facing divorce who are concerned about the fate of their pets may wish to consult an attorney about how they might be protected.

Source: The Daily Beast, "Divorce Is Going to the Dogs, Literally", Keli Goff, June 20, 2014

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