Love is the most universally understood emotion: six-year-olds in Spain and elderly Nigerians all know what it feels like to give and receive love, and how bad it feels when love is unreturned or not around at all. A new survey of Australian adults has me concluding that similar findings could come from my hometown or yours. It appears that more people are going to court to decide “who gets the pet?” than ever before, and litigants without children may fight harder and mourn longer.
Research conducted by a law firm found that one in 10 Australians have lost possession of a pet after the break-up of a marriage or other shared living relationship. Unfortunately for them, about 15% of the survey’s participants thought Family Court would logically make shared-custody arrangements for their pets. They were wrong. I don’t think that’s unique to Down Under.
Australian family lawyer Heather McKinnon explained,
“People often feel that pets are like children, but to a court they are generally treated as property. Particularly in childless marriages, the animals are really important and people find it difficult to understand why the court can’t deal with the emotional attachment.”
Lawyers don’t expect courts to add pet custody to the regular dockets anytime soon even while acknowledging a rise in requests for it. Ms. McKinnon told Perth Now that her workload increasingly includes such cases, and she’s finalized “You get the dog this week-I get him next week” custody deals in the past.
Ms. McKinnon offers good advice for lawyers everywhere: “We have to understand the grieving process and not laugh when [clients] say ‘I want that dog’. You’ve got to understand why it’s so important to them.”