Elly Schmidt-Hopper for the East Bay Express writes about something that does come up from time to time in family law cases. That is, how do you manage a dispute over custody of a pet? The family dog or cat is no longer the “family” pet after a divorce or separation. For some people, who gets custody of the pet could be just as important – more so if there are no children in the family – as any other issue like asset division and spousal support.
For one woman, as Schmidt-Hopper describes, guilt played a role: “I felt very guilty when I left [my husband], so I said, ‘Don’t worry, you’ll still see the cats.” One cat was already hers when they originally got married and the other cat was given as a gift from her husband while they were married.
But, clearly, gifts or not, the cats played a significant role in the emotions of both parties during the divorce.
Of course, what happened next was “head-spinning,” according to Schmidt-Hopper. The ex-couple signed the equivalent of a “parenting schedule” for the cats, wherein the two shared the cats on a three-week rotating schedule, which the woman recognized as something that could go on for a decade, given that one of the cats was only a kitten.
Schmidt-Hopper even cites the work of a pet-custody mediator, who says he’s worked on so many cases that he’s lost count. “I tell people that in my process, the dogs are equal parties. I ask, ‘How are we going to help this animal?'”
This sounds very much like child custody, where you ask a similar question: What’s in the best interest of the child?