Former couples fight bitterly over pets during divorce!
Pets are part of almost every household these days. Many a times, the animal-human bond is stronger than the human-human bonds in a family. Animals have replaced children in many childless homes. And couples purchase pets when they move in together. The animals are treated as family members if not more. Hence these animals are not only part of families, but they also become part of divorce is any such sad thing happens. Therefore, do laws need to change regarding pets during divorce?
Pets during divorce proceedings-an example
One divorce case from Rhode Island attracted a lot of media attention. It was of Paul Giarrusso, 59, a local resident who was divorcing his wife, Diane Marolla. Paul was shattered when his ex-wife said that he cannot see their dogs, Marox, 16 and Winnie, 14. Marox is a miniature Italian greyhound while Winnie is a dachshund-chihuahua mix. Paul expressed:
“It tortured me. In our whole divorce, that was the only thing that could hurt me.”
He fought for two years for the pets in family court and later in the state Supreme Court and paid $15,000 in legal fees. Paul states:
“I went through hell,”
But Diane was also adamant and said:
“I will compromise everything, but I won’t compromise these dogs.”
Ultimately, in April 2019, a Judge ruled that the childless Paul could have the dogs on Tuesdays and Wednesdays every week. Paul, a sports referee at high school and college, was elated and revealed:
“These dogs are like kids. They’re everything to me.”
Laws relating to pets in divorce
Fights over pets is becoming common these days during divorce. But the divorce courts are yet not equipped to deal with such custody fights. And law has not realized that the relations in new homes is not always between two humans.
Hence over the last three years, three states have changed laws to handle this new problem. Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, and Washington DC have the new legislation on it in the process.
Rhode Island state representative Charlene Lima who is a Democrat says:
“There’s a perception that animal legislation isn’t as important as other legislation,”
“I think that’s a complete fallacy.”
Many divorce lawyers agree and feel that the lack of a proper pet-related legislation leads to unnecessary dragged-out fights. One Judge had penned in his verdict:
“People who love their dogs almost always love them forever. The same cannot always be said for those who marry.”
Transformation of society regarding pets
As early as 1897, the US Supreme Court had stated that dogs owned by people are personal property. But at that time, dogs were kept at homes for labor or breeding. But as urban change took over, dogs became more of a family member rather than a worker for the home. Barbara Gislason, a Minnesota family lawyer and the author of Pet Law and Custody states:
“They changed from a working animal to our companions,”
Besides, American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) survey revealed that 80% of owners consider pets as family members. Hence nowadays, more of these pets are taken in as rescue animals and are less and less purchased.
And Barbara adds:
“All of a sudden, with animals that have no street value, people are pouring in thousands of dollars to save them. Now it’s not just about what work the animal is going to do. It’s about something deeper.”
With such societal changes regarding pets, enactment of new laws for pets during divorce would help solve many issues and tension.