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Custody issues aren't a new thing in court but what about pet custody? Those battles are on the rise among couples that don't have children but do have a beloved dog.
In southern California there's been a noticeable uptick in the number of pet custody cases. California is often a barometer for the rest of the nation so it's fair to say these issues will keep coming up. For attorneys who work in family law, it's a good chance you'll see one cross your desk if you haven't already.
Couples who see their pets as babies don't want to treat their animal companion like property subject to division. Their attorneys need to balance client expectations with the reality of the law.
In most states pets are property that must be divided fairly based on value, not 'best interests.' But for pet parents that kind of situation can be unacceptable.
Be clear with clients how the court will analyze who gets ownership of the dog as opposed to child custody. It's important that they understand the court may consider the dog like property rather than looking at who loves it more or cares for it.
Pet custody is an area where it may be helpful to advise clients that negotiating a settlement could be for the best. Rather than relying on a judge, you can help your client have a productive conservation with his spouse about why the pet is so important.
You should also help your client identify what other things she may be willing to give up in order to keep the dog. Prepare her that getting custody could mean giving up other valuable property.
Unlike other property, pets are often companions and the attachment to a pet is strong.
It can be an emotional thing to deal with, especially if your client feels his spouse is trying to get the pet only out of spite. Let your client know you're there for him and give him space to vent about the process, so long as you avoid giving non-legal advice. It won't hurt your professional relationship and it could help build trust.
Are you an expert in pet custody or another unusual but in-demand specialty in your practice? Make sure potential clients can find out right away through your marketing.
Custody battles are often difficult but not all of them involve children. Don't be surprised if you find more clients who are having custody issues that center around a pet and prepare yourself to help them.