If you are the cynical sort who believes our profession is going to the dogs, this story is right up your alley.
In New York, a divorcing couple has gone to court in that state’s first matrimonial pet-custody case. The sole issue in dispute: who gets custody of a miniature dachshund named Joey?
“People who love their dogs almost always love them forever,” Manhattan Justice Matthew Cooper told the New York Post. “But with divorce rates at record highs, the same cannot always be said for those who marry.”
The litigants, who hail from Washington Heights, have reached agreement on all other issues – property, money, who gets the espresso machine – that complicate most divorce cases. But the tug-of-war over two-year-old Joey has created irreconcilable differences.
One party bought Joey as a puppy and gave it to the other as a gift. The grateful recipient told the Post that “my little angel Joey [is] the love of my life … my little soul mate, and there was no way in this lifetime I could ever live without him.”
That’s when the fur began to fly.
From the Post:
Judge Cooper [who owns a 12-year-old rescued pit bull named Peaches] says it’s surprising that, in a “canine-centric city where dogs play an ever more important role in our emotional lives,” he is in uncharted territory. He notes that New York law lags behind other states’ legal standing of their pets, and that “most pet owners would not trade their pets for even $1 million in cash.”
While some state courts like those in Kansas declined to stick their noses in a custody cases, others have leaped at the chance to treat canines like humans in legal proceedings.
An Alabama judge awarded a dog named Preston to one spouse over the other by taking into consideration the pet’s “best interests,” a gauge typically used in child custody cases.
Of course, none of this will come as a surprise to animal lovers. We know that our four-legged friends are more valuable than any four-bedroom home or fancy Fiat.
3 Takeaways For Your Practice
All attorneys can pick up a few pointers from this pooch parable:
- Expand your practice. Google “animal lawyer North Carolina” and you will get a list of attorneys who are just a phone call away from becoming your canine counsel. In fact, “animal law” can cover everything from alligators to zoning issues.
- Think like a client. You might assume you know what your client wants. And you just might be wrong. Not all domestic clients want to wrangle over alimony or automobiles. Some might be more concerned about keeping their pet iguana out of their ex’s hands.
- Same principles, different issues. Even though the New York custody case involves a dog and not a daughter, the same legal issues apply. The presiding judge said his decision will be based on Joey’s best interests – just as in a human custody case.
“This is a cutting-edge case for animal rights,” said one of the lawyers battling over Joey. “It recognizes the special place of pets in our families.”
It also shows that lawyers who think outside the box might not be barking up the wrong tree.
Jay Reeves a/k/a The Risk Man is an attorney licensed in North Carolina and South Carolina. Formerly he was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. Contact email@example.com, phone 919-619-2441.
Source: New York Post http://nypost.com/2013/12/04/landmark-custody-battle-over-dog-in-divorce/