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Court asked to settle custody matter as couple fights over dog

For a couple with no children, a divorce is really just a matter of property division, right? Well, that depends. Is there a pet involved? More to the point, a dog?

In a case from outside of Minnesota, a couple could not agree about who would take full custody of the dog. There were no children, and the rest of the property division process seems to have gone smoothly. During the divorce, husband and wife worked out a shared visitation schedule. When it came to making the final decision, the wife thought that the arrangement had worked well; it made sense to continue. The husband, though, disagreed: Custody should go to one or the other.

So the court stepped in. Like Minnesota, the state of Vermont has laws on the books that lay out the criteria used in child custody cases. There are also laws about property division -- whether a pension constitutes marital property, for example, and how to handle gifts made to one spouse or the couple. When animals do come into the picture, they are usually farm animals, animals that can be assigned a monetary value.

There is nothing about custody of pets, and there is nothing about how -- or whether -- to determine the monetary value of a pet.

In this case, then, the court looked at the role each spouse played in the dog's life -- a kind of "best interest of the pet" standard. The judge, however, made one statement to the couple that struck us as particularly unusual.

We'll explain what it was in our next post.

Source: Seven Days, "Pet Custody Can Dog Vermont Divorces," Ken Picard, June 25, 2014

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