Pet Custody Cattles Are Heating Up

Why Are Pet Custody Battles Getting More Heated?

Forbes Advisor found that 56% of households in the United States had pets in 1988. Over the years, that number rose: in 2023, pet ownership was at 66%. With more pets in more households than ever, it makes sense that more conflicts would come up concerning furry friends. As there has been a decrease in the average number of children per home in the United States, it’s no wonder custody battles are turning to focus on pets more than children.

Pets Are the New Kids

Conflicts regarding pet custody are more adversarial than ever. The prevalence of these battles has left countless couples worried if there’s anything they should do to prepare for the inevitable. Many say they love their pets like children, so it’s no surprise that these custody battles can be just as vicious, challenging and high-stakes as it is with human kids.

According to Statistica, U.S. families included 2.44 children on average in 1965. That average dropped to 1.94 children per household in 2022.

Out of the age demographics, millennials have the most pets at 33%. 25% of Gen Xers own pets, with Baby Boomers right on their tail at 24%.

These numbers go hand-in-hand with another statistic: more young couples are choosing not to have children, instead filling their lives and households with pets. When an animal serves as a substitute for a child, it’s understandable that they would be highly important to both parties.

Custody battles occur with pets of all kinds. Virtually any type of animal that a person can own, care for and become attached to has the potential to become entangled in one of these battles. This rising trend hasn’t popped up out of nowhere, having been in the works for the past few decades.

But when a conflict arises between the humans and the pet doesn’t necessarily want any part of it, it’s important to keep the focus on what’s best for the animals rather than just what the owners want.

It’s common to want to keep the pets for emotional stability or as a companion to help cope with the loss of the relationship. And this bond may go even further, to the point where the owner feels as though their life depends on it.

Laws Are Slowly Catching Up

Laws in some states like California, Illinois and Alaska have been passed where courts are directed to consider what’s best for the animal in these situations. 2023 has already seen the introduction of legislation in Tennessee and Pennsylvania that similarly asks judges to give thought to the pets’ best interests in these kinds of divorce cases.

Some legal experts have been vocal in their belief that the law often doesn’t reflect how families and individuals feel personally on these matters.

It’s still often the case in the eyes of the law that a pet is no different than any other piece of personal property, considered the same as a piece of furniture or recreational vehicle. Although they are often treated like family and considered as such, legally, they are treated as if their value solely lies within their market or monetary value.

Can’t Buy Me Love

As any pet owner knows, animals come with myriad costs, and it is often the person who invested the most financially into the pet’s care who feels they should be entitled to custody. Although it’s already good practice to keep records of your pet’s care, bills from veterinarians and trainers and receipts for pet-related purchases are often also kept to prove who has invested the most in the animal’s wellbeing.

But regardless of who spent the most money, the animal should go to the place where they’ll be happiest. This leads to murky waters with unclear answers in a contentious and emotional fight that’s bound to lead to some petty arguments which might easily turn more heated.

Custody Mediators and Pet Prenups

Thankfully, there are pet custody mediators, many of whom got into their line of work because it was a truly needed profession. Some of these animal behavior experts have been at it for decades, filling a genuinely important role. Couples can’t always find the best resolution on their own, especially when there are already so many other things to cover with their divorce lawyer.

That’s what makes it so crucial for couples to have these kinds of conversations early on in the relationship. Couples are advised to be upfront with each other from the start so they don’t have to figure it out when it’s hardest to do so.

You can think of it as a sort of pet prenup. Prenuptial agreements are common, particularly for those with property or assets that are extremely important to them. This is seen as no different to some in these situations.

There are some who attempt shared pet custody, but this can be impossible or at the very least a strain on everyone involved. It’s almost always extremely stressful for the animal, with the potential to adversely affect its health and mental well-being. And to try to compensate for the broken family, shared custody often breeds unhealthy competition among the pet parents.

It’s not a conversation that anyone looks forward to. The implications make it seem like you expect the relationship to fail. But in the adult world, it’s normal to make preparations for all contingencies.

Sometimes, things just don’t work out the way you planned in a relationship. And since this animal is your shared responsibility, you need to know what happens if you separate.

A Pet Is Not Leverage

Some people, whether they know they’re doing it or not, want to hold on to any power they can in the aftermath of a breakup. It’s common to feel helpless and that your whole world has fallen apart, so many cling to any sense of control they can find.

In those cases, their desire to keep the pet might not have anything to do with attachment. Instead, it’s all about finding a reason to keep seeing their ex. It may be helpful to remind yourself and your ex-partner that the pet is an individual with complex feelings. This can put the focus back on what the animal’s needs are and where it will be happiest.

And while it’s tempting to think that split custody would offer the fairest arrangement for everyone, it rarely works out that way. This leads to a situation where the ex-partners are forced to see each other indefinitely, and it tends to become unsustainable after a long enough time.

The Effects of Celebrity Pet Custody Battles in the News

You’ve likely seen it depicted in movies or on TV in courtroom procedurals, whether to comedic or dramatic effect. But an even worse influence on pet custody trends comes from the real-life pet custody battles of the rich and famous. This has familiarized the public with the idea of these kinds of fights and fueled the idea that it always has to be an adversarial situation.

For those in a relationship or getting together with someone new and there are pets in the mix, the news might seem foreboding. Luckily, animal custody disagreements between most people aren’t nearly as fiery as the high-profile feuds seen on TV.

Call the Law Office of Kelly Berton Rocco today at 201-343-0078 for a divorce lawyer who can help with your pet custody battle. We’ll handle your case with the care that only a pet owner would understand.

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