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Finding Buddy: Courts puzzle over pet custody in divorce p2

We are picking up our discussion from our last post about divorce and pet custody. The question for the courts is whether pets are property or something more than property. In the case we are talking about, the wife argued that the pet was "special property," and she had precedent to support her argument -- sort of.

The story is out of Vermont, not Tennessee, so the decision is not binding on any Tennessee cases. If the Tennessee Supreme Court comes across a similar case, though, and has no precedent from this state, it may look to other states' decisions for guidance. Even a case from a state as far away as Vermont could influence state law here.

Back to the case: The couple had no children, but they had a dog. When they separated in anticipation of their divorce, they worked out a shared custody arrangement for the dog. When it came time for the final decree, though, the husband did not want that to continue. He wanted sole custody.

State law provides guidelines for child custody but not pet custody; still, the trial court apparently borrowed from the child custody criteria to help with the decision. The judge said her decision would turn on which spouse had been the "more active" caregiver -- for the dog -- while the couple was married. Regardless, she added, if the two agreed to a shared visitation arrangement, the family court would not enforce it -- yes, "even if the parties agreed to it."

The judge granted custody to the husband, basing her decision in part on her perception that the husband treated the dog "like a dog," while the wife treated the dog "like a child." The husband's "balanced attitude" toward the dog would serve the dog better. The wife appealed.

We will discuss that appeal, and wrap this up, in our next post.

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

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