Nancy L. Sponseller

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Dog custody disputes becoming common

On behalf of Law Office of Nancy L. Sponseller posted on Tuesday, June 24, 2014.

Ohio residents may be interested to learn of a new trend among divorcing couples. While child custody disputes are commonplace, there has been a rising tide of couples instead asking the judge to decide custody of the family dog. Now that many couples choose to delay parenthood and Americans are spending more on their pets every year, pets have become an important part of the family. As important as our dogs and cats are to us, the law has always treated them as personal property, no different from a piece of furniture or a vase received as a wedding gift. But the law is slowly adapting to the needs of the people.

A current Hollywood divorce illustrates this trend. When Antonio Bandares and Melanie Griffith announced their split, it was expected to be an amicable divorce. Because their only child is nearly 18, a custody dispute was not anticipated. However, Melanie is now seeking custody of the couple’s three dogs.

With no real guidance in the law on how to address pet custody disputes, many judges simply auction the animal off to the highest bidder. Whichever spouse is willing to give up more in furniture or cash may be the one that gets to keep the family pet. But some judges are becoming more willing to hear who was the primary care provider for the pet before making a decision.

One expert suggested that the best way to avoid an issue is to include pets in a prenuptial agreement to ensure that the same spouse gets to keep the animal if the marriage ends. A family law attorney may be able to help create a prenuptial agreement or help a client negotiate a divorce settlement agreement that addresses the issue.

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