'$400 an hour to fight over a pet': Why divorcing couples need a plan

Mandy Moore wanted custody over her pets during her divorce talks with her ex
Mandy Moore wanted custody over her pets during her divorce talks with her ex

Pet custody cases are becoming a lucrative business opportunity for lawyers, as divorcing couples bicker over who gets their furry friends when they part ways.

You might have seen lawyers posting things like “they’re paying me $400 an hour to fight over a pet; either to spite their partner or because they really do think of their pets as children.”

When “This Is Us” star Mandy Moore was going through her divorce, one of the biggest reasons talks stalled was custody over their six cats and two dogs. Moore got to keep all of them and asked for pet support payments from her ex.

Canada represents a huge market considering 57 per cent of households include a pet.

According to the most recent data, in 2014 there was a 22 per cent increase in pet custody hearings. Dogs were at the centre of the custody battle in 88 per cent of the cases, cats 5 per cent. The rest involved horses, birds, and reptiles.

Cases involving pets can be complicated because they aren’t actually human children (surely many pet owners will disagree) and they can’t be sold off like valuable heirlooms.

“Although in legal terms under the Family Law Act of Ontario, and in numerous courtrooms across Canada, pets are considered to be ‘possessions’ or ‘property,’ in recent years more judges are considering pets as having special status, and acknowledging the very real emotional attachments separating spouses have for Fido or Fifi,” says Diana Isaac, family lawyer at Shulman Law Firm.

Shulman Law Firm says more progressive laws in the U.S. will likely spill over to Canada. For example, California law allows judges to consider shared custody arrangements and directs judges to consider the well being of pets caught in the middle of divorce. Illinois and Alaska have passed similar laws.

There was even a case in St.Louis, where a judge asked ordered the a divorcing couple to stand on opposite ends of of the courtroom to see who the dog would go to. The dog got confused and ended up going home with the judge.

Shulman Law Firm suggests couples create a written contract to determine custody in the event of a divorce. Besides who gets custody, couples should consider who the primary decision maker will be, visitation, expenses, medicine, and vet visits.

Seperating couples are encouraged to think about keeping pets with whoever gets the human kids, has better space, and has the financial means to take care of the four-legged victims of divorce.

Jessy Bains is a senior reporter at Yahoo Finance Canada. Follow him on Twitter @jessysbains

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