A traveler to California took a turn in Carmel recently. One of the things he noticed particularly was that there weren’t a lot of children around. There didn’t seem to be any shortage of proud couples. The focus of their attention, however, seemed to be their pets — most of which were standard poodles. They seemed to be everywhere.
Maybe the reason this person was surprised is because he is from the Midwest. But in this part of the country, and maybe especially around the Pleasanton and greater Bay Area, dogs reportedly outnumber children. As one recent report on KBCW-TV pointed out, very often dogs are the children of a San Francisco family.
This often creates a bit of a sticky situation when a couple decides to divorce because if the spouses view their pet as a member of the family, they may well expect the system to look at any dispute as a custody issue But in California, as in much of the country, pets — even beloved canines — are considered property subject to division in a divorce.
That being the case, if you anticipate that a battle could develop in the course of asset division, the advice of various reputable organizations such as the Animal Defense League is that you seek the advice of an experienced attorney who can help.
According to the KCBW report, the lifespan of the average marriage in the U.S. is about eight years. That’s far shorter than the typical lifespan of a dog or cat. Meanwhile, a recent survey by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers found that divorce attorneys nationally report that disputes involving pets have increased nearly 30 percent in the past five years.
The dynamics of divorce are emotional and deeply personal. Finding the right solutions for any given situation requires particular sensitivity and an appreciation that while the law may see a pet as divisible property, that isn’t the perspective of human hearts.