Photo by Nick_Schweitzer (Flickr)
I used to be a divorce lawyer. I know the kind of arguments that can erupt in divorce. Arguments fueled by emotion, not reason. Divorce should be treated as a business transaction. It works just fine then, when all the emotion has drained out of it. There is an argument that says that people should separate for a while and then divorce when things have cooled down. The greatest heat is generated over the children; members of the family. Pets are also members of the family1 so is it the same for them?
I was the umpire in many a vicious contest over ?custody? of children. But I do not recall ever witnessing a fight over the cat or dog. Why, I wonder?
Cats are just as much part of the family as children. And, yes, divorcing couples do occasionally fight over their pets. I read in the Daily Mail online, today 29th April 2010, that in one divorce case that went to court, a judge decided that the best way to find out which of the two should keep the dog was for the dog to choose. They stood side by side in the court. The dog was ushered up between them to choose. The dog chose the husband. He would because the husband had stuffed his trousers with the dog's favourite food! The husband lost on appeal.
On the face of it pets should be more likely to be fought over because the law treats them as possessions, chattels to use an old English word. But, in my experience people rarely do fight over their pets.
This might be for a number of reasons. Firstly and most importantly, I think, it is not uncommon for one party to bring a pet to the marriage. When this is the case it is obvious that the first decision is for the pet to stay with that person unless there is something outstanding that alters that.
Secondly, with children there is an almost perfectly equal balance between the connection of the child and both their parents on most occasions. A parent may have a favorite child (which I say is wrong, but human) but the child is equally theirs genetically. The basic bonding is usually the same for both parents. That balanced situation makes it hard to divide the child. That is why judges in the UK are increasing making orders in which the children reside with the divorced parents equally (joint residence order).
With pets there is usually a more obvious division. It stands out and is less finely balanced. Each party to the divorce is more likely to have a favourite and the division is made accordingly. Most importantly that favouritism is usually and clearly reciprocated by the cat or dog (I'll confine myself to cats and dogs in this post). This immediately settles any potential argument.
I think it is more likely for people to argue over the silver candlesticks than the cat. There is another blacker reason. Do some people value their inanimate possessions more than their pets? On occasions, this can surely be the case judging by the level of abandonments, the declawing and the story that Elisa has just told us: Abandoned Cats in Dubai. The callous, casual way these pets were abandoned I find shocking. Elisa graciously declined to criticise these people. Some perhaps don?t deserve criticism but a good number certainly do. A cat or dog should be adopted for life, come what may, in my view.
There is an unacceptable level of casualness and convenience with the way people treat their pets sometimes. Britain is meant to be a country of animal lovers. There are lots of animal lovers in Britain but there are also plenty of people who are careless with animals or worse; they dislike or hate them. Cats are more prone to being hated than dogs probably because of a higher level of misunderstanding and/or misconceptions about them. This is underscored by the arrogance of humankind. We think we own everything.
I myself have been through divorce. At the time we had two cats, brother and sister. When we adopted them from a neighbour who allowed his cat to breed, Freddie, the boy chose my ex-wife, Geraldine. He was a tiny kitten at the time and he came over to her and sat on her lap. He just stayed there. As we say, the cat chose the human and that moment sealed the relationship. There was no possibility of an argument under these circumstances. As it happened I was literally in love with my girl cat! You can see where some of the problems were. All this said, we both realised the madness of argument over any family asset in divorce so it all went swimmingly - well sort of.
I wonder if someone has an experience on fighting for custody of pets in a divorce?
Some cases of pet division:
Although pets are considered possessions as mentioned, judges sometimes divide the pets according to laws and precedents concerning children. The case above concerning the dog is an example. When a child is of a certain age at which he or she can make an informed decision the judge is obliged to listen to their views on where they should live. This happens but with caution as parents can have an influence.
In the case of Juelfs v. Gough, 41 P.2d 593 (Alaska 2002) the husband was awarded custody of the Labrador Retriever because it was safer with him on the basis that the wife had other dogs that might come into conflict with the Labrador.
In the case of Raymond v. Lachmann, 695 N.Y.S. 2d 308 (N.Y. App. Div. 1999) a cat companion was described, obviously correctly, as "feeling individual", who had "lived, prospered, loved and been loved". The cat was not treated as a chattel.
In Zovko v.Gregory, No. CH 97-544(Arlington County (Va.) Circuit
Court, October 17, 1997) the cat's happiness took precedence over the property rights of the people concerned2.
Of course, the troops and people who know and love cats will realise that this is the only way to make decisions when fighting for custody of pets in a divorce.
1. 70% in America consider their pet a member of the family. William C. Root, Man's Best Friend: Property or Family Member?