A woman is suing her ex-boyfriend for joint or full custody of the two schnauzers they once shared. The couple broke up about five years ago and had arranged a joint custody agreement which was going well for many years, according to the woman. The woman lives with multiple sclerosis and says that the dogs help her cope with her medical condition and are an important part of her therapeutic routine. The joint custody arrangement was suddenly cut off about two months ago.
This case brings in a few different interesting elements since the woman is seeking a custody arrangement similar to one that a parent might seek in a child custody case, but pets are treated as property, not family members, under family law norms. While this concept conflicts with how most of us feel about our furry companions, courts in many states have been unwilling to alter the way that laws are interpreted to accommodate pets.
This case is also slightly more complex because the couple in question was never married, so division of property between the two of them was not subject to equitable distribution rules as it would be in a divorce. Instead they worked out the arrangement on their own which could possible put the dispute into the realm of a breach of contract claim, rather than a family law matter.
People who have questions about their rights to shared pets after a breakup should seek advice from a professional with experience in non-marital breakups and property division, such as those which are common among same-sex couples who are not able to marry in Texas.
Source: New York Daily News, “Woman sues ex-boyfriend for custody of dogs, accuses his wife of being instigator,” Tim O’Connor, March 1, 2013.