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North Carolina couples add pet custody to divorce settlement

Modern divorce settlements are expanding the definition of "family" to include the family pets. Celebrity couple Antonio Banderas and Melanie Griffith made headlines recently for including custody of the couple's dogs, but the practice of including shared pets during property allocation is becoming more popular.

Family law attorneys in North Carolina and other states are seeing a rise in couples who include custody of pets in their divorce agreement. While traditional issues such as spousal support, child custody, visitation plans and child support remain important, many couples place emotional value on their animal family members. For couples without children, the value of a pet may be even higher, creating disputes over custody or visitation rights of the beloved family dog. Many courts struggle to keep up as families change faster than the law.

Animals are property under the law, and traditional guidelines regarding property division apply to the couple's pets. Most attorneys advise couples to make potential post-divorce custody of a pet part of a prenuptial agreement, but couples without such an agreement can face drawn-out arguments during the divorce process. Other state courts including New York are starting to consider pets as a hybrid of property and children, applying procedures for allocating guardianship of both as a guideline when determining where the pets will go when both partners go their separate ways.

Issues involving pet custody and visitation are rapidly evolving in the field of family law. As the courts in North Carolina and other states work out ways to place beloved pets equitably following separation or divorce, attorneys are working to help clients determine what is best for the four-legged members of the family.

Source: The Daily Beast, "Divorce Is Going to the Dogs, Literally", Keli Goff, June 20, 2014

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