Pet Custody Lawyers

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What is pet custody? Is it like child custody?

Pet custody refers to the issues that arise when more than one person claims ownership of a dog, cat or other small animal, which leads to a conflict in custody rights. Pet custody is NOT like child custody because pets are not people. We may treat our pets like they’re just our furry children, but under the law they’re still recognized as personal property.

Pet custody issues typically arise when a relationship ends, couples divorce or separate and neither is willing to give up ownership of the pet they shared. Pet custody issues can also arise in more extraordinary circumstances. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina many of the affected cities’ furry residents were rescued and relocated to shelters across the country from which they were adopted by well meaning and generous families. However, once the Katrina afflicted families started to recover from the disaster, they wanted their pets back.

I recently ended a relationship and want custody of our shared pet, what can I do?

Unless you can agree upon an amicable sharing agreement with your “Ex” (spouse, wife, husband, girlfriend, boyfriend, partner) you will probably have to go to court to assure custody or visitation. Since pets are legally classified as property, they will have to be divided between you as such. i.e. if you do not want custody you will be offered monetary compensation or other property in lieu of custody.

However, there is case precedent for treating animals as a special form of property. Much like a rare painting or piece of jewelry, there is sentimental value attached to the pet that cannot be replaced with money or another item. Some judges even allowed testimony from animal experts on which situation would be best for the animal. These experts evaluate the way the pet interacts with each of the parties to see which it has bonded most with or even if it could handle a shared custody situation. Such shared custody situations are also increasing in popularity.

However, if you were never married to your “Ex”, this situation could become even more complicated. Since the pet is property, usually the person whose name is on the ownership papers will have the better case. However, the other partner could provide evidence that they were the ones paying for the upkeep of the animal (i.e. receipts for food, supplies, veterinary visits, etc.) or were the primary caregiver. However as discussed above, the success or failure of these arguments will depend largely on the status of animal rights law in your State.

Do I need a Lawyer?

If you are involved in any type of custody dispute with your significant other, your children, your pets, or all three, a lawyer can help you decide the best course of action.

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Last Modified: 07-13-2010 11:31 AM PDT

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