October 7, 2013

What To Do With The Dog


Pets are part and parcel of many families. We care for them, love them and do our best to be good stewards through out their lives. For 83 percent of us (according to an American Animal Hospital Association survey), our pets are no longer simply man’s best friend, they are the non-human members of our families.

Yet no matter how we feel about the furred, feathered or scaled creatures that share and enrich our lives, they often get short shrift during divorce proceedings with  judges frequently deciding the issue of who gets the pets based on marital property laws.

Like most things in divorce, the usual way to handle disagreements over who gets the pets seems to involve investing a great deal of money and time litigating the issue. The sad fact is, according to a 2006 survey by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, there has been a 23% increase in pet custody cases with divorcing couples leaving issues ranging from visitation, custody and vet bills to end of life decisions in a judge’s hands.

For those willing to take a different approach, a collaborative approach, it is possible to treat these issues in a more holistic way, to think in terms of the best interests of the pet. Thinking about the custody of a pet in a similar light as that of a child, opens the door to the possibility of developing a plan that allows a cherish pet to continue to enrich the lives of the entire family.

While it is simple to think of pet custody merely in terms of ownership, the fact is that all too frequently this attitude leads to a pet being surrendered to a shelter, another casualty of divorce. A good, comprehensive plan needs to look beyond simple ownership and find solutions that match the pet’s and the family’s needs, to address a whole range of issues ranging from the ability to provide for the financial needs of the animal (kibble, vet bills, licenses, grooming – the costs add up) to where the animal will live (sure, the kids should keep the dog, but what if the “new home” doesn’t allow pets? what if being a co-parent means you no longer have the flexibility in your schedule to care for the animal).

A stewardship plan for your pet may not be as detailed or flexible as a parenting plan for your children, but in terms of preserving an important bond for you and your family, it may be just as important.

Bruce Cameron
Attorney, Cameron Law, PLLC

Bruce Cameron, JD, MS is a second career attorney, practicing Quaker, and advocate for small town law practices. His solo practice focuses exclusively on collaborative law and mediation with just a soupçon of estate planning for excitement. Bruce believes that alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, like collaborative law and mediation, are powerful positive means to reduce the destructive conflict typical of litigation. He has found that a little peacemaking tends to produce better outcomes for his clients. Learn more at www.CameronLawPllc.com

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