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Divorce and pet custody: fighting over cats and dogs

Divorce and pet custody: fighting over cats and dogs

We’ve written about divorced couples that amicably split millions of dollars, presidential mansions, and in one case a Nobel Prize. But adding a family pet to the mix turns even the classiest divorce into Jerry Springer meets Cesar Millan.

Dogs, cats, and whatever else Paris Hilton dangles from her rhinestone leashes nowadays, they are not living, breathing creatures with affections and emotions. In the eyes of the law they’re assets.

And like all your other assets, if you and your fellow animal lover can’t agree on who gets Fido with a prenuptial, postnuptial or lawyer-assisted agreement, a judge will be the one to decide.

In Washington, there are no laws on “pet custody,” so judges usually base their decisions on factors like:

  • Who currently provides more care for the pet
  • Who owned the pet before the marriage
  • The presence of other family pets (usually divided equally, like other marital assets)
  • Testimony from friends, neighbors, therapists, etc.

Then again, decisions have been based on which divorcée submitted a better Day in the Life of Fido film and by letting the dog choose its owner.

Since celebrities, divorces, and pampered pets go together like Hasselhoff, Wendy's, and a fifth of Stoli, we’ve got examples aplenty of how to take the bite out of your pet custody case.

Finders keepers

Although much more famous for being “smuggled” into Australia and the ludicrous apology on their behalf, Johnny Depp and Amber Heard’s Yorkshire Terriers also played a significant role in the couple’s divorce.

Near the end of their case there was only one thing left to settle: who got custody of Pistol and Boo. Reportedly, Mr. Depp wanted one of the dogs to stay with him or joint custody of both dogs. But since Ms. Heard owned these adorable assets prior to the 15-month marriage, she was under no obligation to make any concessions.

Poor Jack Sparrow, all he got to keep was his private island in the Bahamas, the French village he owns, and his 42 cars, bikes, boats, and golf carts.

The Princess of Pop’s pup

One doesn’t need to look much further than Britney Spears to see that ownership isn’t always enough. The Queen of Comebacks adopted a small dog named London, but during her divorce from Kevin Federline, PETA begged her ex to request custody of the dog, “For the sake of [his] children and the animals who are at risk while in Ms. Spears’ custody.”

The details of their divorce are still a secret, but since Britney hasn’t been seen with London since, it’s safe to assume the judge agreed with PETA. But on what grounds?

Spears was named the Worst Celebrity Dog Owner of 2006 after a story surfaced that she neglected to take London to the vet after someone stepped on its legs and broke them. But assets don’t have feelings, so that couldn't have been it.

Custody of the children went to Mr. Federline and it’s likely that the judge took the dog away from Britney based on what was best for her boys.

Too bad for London. As of 2015, Spears was spending $40k per year on pet care.

Moore’s menagerie

Sometimes couples fight because they don’t want to be responsible for family pets, as was the case with Ryan Adams and Mandy Moore. The couple adopted six cats and two dogs during their marriage and Mandy claimed Ryan should be responsible for at least half of them after their split.

At the time of their divorce, Adams was making more than four times what Moore did, a fact she used to justify a $37k per month spousal support request. Well...that and the extra litter box duties she was “stuck” with.

Moore listed a couple thousand dollars in pet care needs, but from the bench her feline friends were just assets, so she could have just given them away.

The finalized divorce agreement included zero spousal support payments and made no mention of pet custody. Moore did get the couple’s 4-year-old Prius though, which seems appropriate for someone who asked for pet support payments.

Pet custody for regular people

The best thing you can do is write up a Petnup -- a Prenup for pets -- that outlines what will happen to your pets in the event of a split. It could include canine custody clauses, kitten care and contentedness conditions, and anything else you think will make the distribution of pet-assets go more smoothly.

If you want to avoid reenacting a made-for-tv cliché -- standing across from your ex in a courtroom and begging your pup to choose you -- call us today about a lawyer-assisted mediation session.