Divorce has become commonplace, so much so that people are often surprised if you’ve never been married as it is highly likely that at least 31% of your friends between the ages of 35 and 54 who are married, engaged, or cohabiting have previously gone through a divorce. Young couples marrying for the first time face a lifetime divorce risk of 40%, with the average length of first marriages lasting only eight years. Therefore, as a result of the increase in divorce, it should come as no surprise that people have begun drafting agreements which not only deal with the division of their assets but also custody of their animals.
In recent years, pet or “pup-nuptial” agreements have become increasingly prevalent as, accordingly to a long-time divorce lawyer quoted in the Boston Globe, the most difficult issue to resolve in one of his divorce cases was over who would retain a mule. Yes, a mule, as in a male-donkey-female-horse-hybrid. While the attorney was familiar with disputes involving custody of a family pet, the divorce and separation of couple who shared a mule was challenging to say the least.
Few things, aside from custody of their children, will cause parting couples to draw battle lined than mutually-loved and cherished animal companions. Due to the rise in disputes over pet custody, family law attorneys are now recommending that couples include their pets in prenuptial agreements.
While many divorce lawyers empathize with the needs of parting pet owners, in the eyes of the law, pets are not considered dependents like children, though couples often treat them as such. Unlike child custody and support disputes, a pet’s best interests are often not considered.
Again, aside from children, some pet owners claim that the family members who suffer the most in divorces are animal companions, as pets, unfortunately much like children, are often used as tools in divorce proceedings
The hostility surrounding pet custody disputes was highlighted in June during the divorce of celebrity couple, Antonio Banderas and Melanie Griffith. Though the couple released a statement claiming they were ending their 20 years of marriage in a loving and friendly manner, Griffith was anything but in her fight for custody of the couple’s three dogs.
Pets have become an integral part of modern families, which makes it difficult for courts to determine custody. However, Court’s are at least making an effort. Recent legislation in San Francisco, which considers pet owners as guardians, as well as a bill in Wisconsin (reportedly the first in the nation) designed to create guidelines regarding pet custody disputes, are steps in the right direction relative to custody of pets in divorce proceedings. If you are considering a divorce or legal separation and have concerns as to how your pets will factor in to the equation, contact the Macomb family law attorneys at Iafrate & Salassa, P.C. for a free initial consultation.