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Finding Buddy: Courts puzzle over pet custody in divorce

There is something about this case that reminds us of "Finding Nemo." In his search for his son, Nemo's father comes across a trio of sharks. They are apparently going through a twelve-step program that involves a pledge: Fish are friends, not food.

Here, the focus is pets, and to some, pets are family, not property. In a divorce, though, the matter is not quite so clear-cut. We came across a case from outside of Tennessee that we believe illustrates the surprisingly complex issues facing family courts when pets are involved.

Not everyone is an animal lover, we know. But we ask our readers to take it on faith that there are people out there who consider their pets, particularly their dogs and cats, to be members of the family. We have all heard about dogs inheriting vast fortunes. That's just one instance of how keenly some pet owners feel about their little charges.

Custody of a pet can easily become a point of contention in a divorce. When a couple has children, though, both the couple and the courts will probably consider the best interests of the children when deciding where the pet will end up. Somehow, kids have a special connection to animals, especially dogs.

When a couple has no children, though, the matter is more complicated. Many times the couple will consider the pet -- most often a dog, according to at least one pet custody professional -- to be their child. Husband and wife may play different roles in the dog's life, may have different responsibilities when it comes to the dog's health and welfare. If both feel a special kinship with the dog, where the dog lives after the couple splits up for good can be a touchy issue.

And that brings us to a recent Vermont Supreme Court decision involving a custody arrangement for a dog. We will discuss the details and the ruling in our next post.

Source: Seven Days, "Pet Custody Can Dog Vermont Divorces," Ken Picard, June 25, 2014

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