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Are custody hearings going to the dogs?

A courtroom in New York City will soon play host to a first-of-its-kind custody hearing. However, the hearing won't concern who gets visitation rights or custody of any children, but rather who gets custody of the family dog.

The case in question involves two women who are currently pursuing a divorce after one year of marriage and who have no divorce-related issues to resolve outside of who gets sole custody of their beloved 2-year-old miniature dachshund named Joey.

According to court documents, one of the women originally purchased the then-10-week-old Joey for her spouse as "consolation for her having to give away her cat at [her spouse's] insistence."

For her part, the woman who gave Joey as a gift argues that she should be granted primary custody of the dog due to the fact that she was his primary caregiver and primary means of financial support. However, her ex-spouse, who currently has canine custody, argues that she was the one who assumed the role of primary caregiver and that Joey is nothing less than her "little soul mate."

In deciding to grant the state's first ever pet custody hearing (which has yet to be scheduled) the judge cited the fact that pets are now considered to be members of the family, and that the number of people seeking a fair resolution of such matters is only likely to increase over the years given the current rates of pet ownership.

"If judicial resources can be devoted to such matters as which party gets to use the Escalade as opposed to the Ferrari, or who gets to stay in the Hamptons house instead of the Aspen chalet, there is certainly room to give real consideration to a case involving a treasured pet," he said.

The judge also pointed out how courts in several states are now moving away from the traditional designation of pets as property and instead holding these types of custody hearings.

For example, a family court judge in Alabama recently made the decision to give custody of the family dog to one spouse after employing the "best interests" analysis, which is typically reserved for child custody matters.

It should be interesting to see what happens in Joey's case. It's a very good bet that the judge will employ a similar analysis in determining which of the two women assumed the most responsibility in meeting the needs of the dog.

What are your thoughts on this story? Should courts devote resources to pet custody hearings?

If you would like to learn more about divorce, property division, spousal maintenance, child custody or other family law issues here in Texas, consider speaking with a dedicated and determined legal professional.

Source: The New York Post, "Landmark custody battle over dog in divorce," Julia Marsh, Dec. 4, 2013

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