Boy meets Girl. Boy loses Girl. Boy gets Girl back again. Next, Boy and Girl get Dog.
Sound familiar? How about the case of Kristen Stewart and her Twilight co-star, Robert Pattinson? Back in the fall, we read that the famous couple was arguing over the fate of their adopted dog “Bear” when they were going through their equally famous break-up. But now it seems that the couple has reconciled and that they spent Thanksgiving together. News reports indicate that they are considering adopting another dog as a companion for Bear.
My advice to these lovebirds is: “Think twice!” At the very least, they need to come to an understanding about what will happen to the dogs if they break up again. Chances are, now that they are back in each other’s good graces, they will be more concerned about the welfare of their beloved dog(s) than they are about getting even. Fighting over dog custody while emotions are running high is just as contentious as custody battles over children. But now, while romance is in the air and everything’s coming up roses, it is the ideal time to make provisions for just-in-case.
Think of it as a “pup-nup.”
Hollywood figures are not the only ones to whom this advice applies. Any unmarried couple who acquire a dog during the relationship should think about what might happen down the road. In determining custody of pets in a contested court case, the name on the adoption contract is not the end of the inquiry: no matter who fills in the blank as the dog’s “owner,” if two people intended the dog to be shared property, they each can have an equitable claim for possession or visitation after a breakup.
Here at the law offices of Gina Calogero, we’ve seen it all: married couples who get a puppy “for the kids” when they reconcile, engaged couples who adopt a dog in eager anticipation of the wedding, couples who live together getting a dog as a dress rehearsal for having kids in the future, or even dating couples who adopt a dog when they are not living together. It all works out fine when they are together, but after the breakup, there are the inevitable fights over who keeps Fido. People naturally bond with their companion animals. And the animals don’t care whether there is a marriage license or not. The bond is strong and it hurts everyone – including the pet – when it is broken.
We urge people to think things through when jointly acquiring an animal out of wedlock, and to have a written agreement that covers all bases, including how to share costs of veterinary care, grooming and other expenses. And we urge you to seek an animal-friendly lawyer who has experience with these sort of cases. Gina Calogero and Carla Hummel have experience both in the drafting of voluntary joint custody agreements and in the litigation of contested pet custody cases. Call us for a consultation before you and your Honey make that trip to the local animal shelter and we will help you prepare a legally binding and fair agreement for the shared custody of your new Forever Friend.