Can you imagine being separated from your adorable, furry companion? Increasingly, pets are becoming subjects of contention for couples undergoing divorce. In some cases, pets are even included in prenuptial arrangements, also known as “pre-pups.”
There are nearly 179 million cats and dogs living in U.S. homes, according to the Human Society of the United States. Pet ownership has surged over the years, and many Americans would rather go to court than leave a bad marriage even more alone.
“It’s essential a couple that has a pet deal with these with issues because pets aren’t treated in the same way under the laws,” said attorney Ann-Margaret Carrozza.
Vicki Ziegler, star of Bravo cable network show “Untying the Knot” about divorce battles, wrote in her July 2 blog: “Conflicts over pets can be just as important to divorcing spouses as any issue when both spouses have developed a special connection to a furry friend that they love and care for day-in and day-out. This feeling can be even greater when the couple has no children and the animal has taken on the role of the couple’s ‘child’.”
She adds that it is becoming increasingly popular for divorcing couples to set up visitation schedules for their pets and negotiating specific agreements on who will be responsible for vet visits, dog park exercise and more.
In late 2013, a landmark divorce case involving a lesbian couple in New York featured a heated pet custody battle.
Trisha Murray and Shannon Travis fought for custody over their two-year-old miniature dachshund Joey, which Murray had bought and given to Travis as a gift, the New York Post reported.
Murray had financially supported the puppy, but Travis argued that the pet belonged to her because she was the initial owner.
The judge in the case decided to set aside property claims, using instead a different “best for all concerned” standard established by the earlier Raymond v. Lachmann court case, which involved pet possession.
Murray’s attorney Sherri Donovan said that the divorce case was one of the first to set aside a one-day hearing to gauge to dog’s best interests.
The hearing gave a chance for both parties to address important questions regarding the dog’s well-being and physical care.
“I think what it makes clear is that animals are not a piece of furniture,” Donovan said. Pets are a beloved member of the family. The standard that was set in the case is a good one and I advocate for it.”
The case set a precedent for future pet custody battles waged during divorces.
“It’s a one-day hearing,” Donovan said. “But it does take into account the concerns of all and it does help settle cases. Now there is a standard. Before this case there was no standard, people kept filing litigation.”
Many married couples are beginning to take defensive measures to avoid any future litigation over pets. They choose to include stipulations involving pet visitation rights and primary custody as a separate class in their prenuptial agreements, Carrozza said.
“I think it’s clear animal right and pets are important to the 21st century family,” Donovan said.