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Pet custody issues now common in divorce proceedings

Illinois residents may not have heard that a celebrity couple has finally decided to call it quits after almost 20 years of marriage. Antonio Banderas and Melanie Griffith recently announced their desire to settle their split cordially. However, that goal seems to be threatened by an impending custody battle over their pets.

Griffith is reportedly vying for custody of their three dogs. While some may laugh at something like this, legal disputes over animal custody are very real for some divorced couples, and pets are often a significant consideration for attorneys practicing in family law.

While being interviewed by the news source, a celebrity divorce attorney attested to the prevalence of custody battles over animals. He said pets are considered property under the law, and that view was also expressed by another divorce attorney who spoke with the source. However, a judge who understands the sentimental value of a pet may show concern for which party was more involved in the everyday care of a pet when assigning custody.

One way to avoid future conflict over pets in a divorce is signing a prenuptial agreement before marriage that specifies who gets the pet in case of divorce. Couples can also draft postnuptial agreements for the same purpose when a pet comes into the relationship after marriage.

Divorce attorneys may be able to help clients retain custody of their pets when their marriages end. Pets are commonly treated as marital assets during divorce proceedings, and lawyers can ensure that their clients are not forced to pay exorbitant costs to their ex-spouse for any animals in dispute. Also, the prevalence of custody battles over pets has made some judges more willing to consider them like children in divorces. This circumstance could allow each party’s legal counsel to present evidence showing that his or her client was the primary caretaker of the animal, or animals, in question.

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