Survey of matrimonial lawyers shows steady increase of pet custody disputes

According to a survey of the nation's matrimonial lawyers, the issue of pet custody is increasingly taking center stage in many already messy divorce cases. 

The survey, conducted by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML), revealed that 27 percent of AAML respondents said they noticed an uptick in pet custody disputes over the past five years. 

Maria Cognetti, AAML president, said the disputes often begin as a negotiating tactic by one spouse - a strategy that can backfire in some cases.

"While pet custody cases are not an everyday occurrence, far too many spouses attempt to initiate these disputes as a negotiating strategy, often believing that they can use the animal as a kind of bargaining chip," Cognetti said. "This tactic is usually not effective and can come back to 'bite' the antagonist throughout the divorce process. When it comes to a pet, it is often obvious which of the spouses has the strongest emotional bond."

Additional findings reported from the AAML survey included:

  • Dogs were the most disputed family animal at 88 percent, while cats came in at 5 percent.
  • Animals listed as "other" were the third most commonly disputed animal, and horses were fourth at 1 percent.
  • About 22 percent of attorneys said courts are more frequently allowing pet custody cases.
  • About 20 percent of respondents noticed an increase in courts classifying pets as assets during divorces.
  • Some of the more unusual animals caught up in disputes included a python, African grey parrot, iguana, and 130-pound turtle.

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