Many people agree with the saying that dogs are man’s (and woman’s) best friend. Our pups become full-fledged members of our families, and may even be treated like our children. So, just like there is custody and mediation regarding children when a couple is going through a separation or divorce, there are also custody battles and long-winded litigation regarding pets.

One instance where a pet-custody battle grabbed headlines was a case in San Diego between a divorcing couple regarding their dog, Gigi. A 2017 article by the New York Times goes on to describe the battle stating that:

“At first, they were granted joint custody of Gigi, but neither human was satisfied with the arrangement, according to news accounts. A court fight followed that took two years and cost about $150,000 in legal fees. It involved a court-ordered “bonding study” conducted by an animal behaviorist and a videotape, “A Day in the Life of Gigi,” showing the dog spending time with Ms. Perkins, who was ultimately awarded sole custody in 2000.”

This is just one example of many in which divorcing partners have forged long legal battles over their furry loved ones. One way that the above situation could possibly have been avoided is through determining who the pets will reside with within a pre-nuptial (ante-nuptial) agreement. In the eyes of the law, pets are viewed as possessions, therefore making them available to be named as property within a pre-nuptial. An important note to consider is that as a result of pets being viewed as property within the eyes of the law, they also fall within the discretion of a judge over who will receive custody. Many judges may hold different opinions on the value of pet relationships, or over who would be a more fit owner. This variation in discretion could leave pet owners uneasy, and signal the need for a preventative safeguard.

How can you keep your four-legged family members protected? To best avoid this legal uncertainty and if you are not yet married, remember to consider your pet(s) when negotiating a prenuptial agreement. Alternatively, if you are already married, planning regarding your pets can be addressed in a postnuptial agreement as well.

The material contained herein is for informational purposes only, and is not intended to create or constitute an attorney-client relationship between Schromen Law, LLC and the reader. The information contained herein is not offered as legal advice and should not be construed as legal advice.

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