Pets and Divorce

Hi there,

It’s coming up on Halloween and the pet stores are selling pet costumes…

I have two big dogs and one very tough cat, and while I don’t think I’m going to be buying them costumes any time soon, I do understand the urge.  We think of and feel about our pets the way we do our children.  If you don’t have kids, your pets fill that slot.  I’m a grandmother and I refer to the dogs as “my boys.”

Any person, pet or child (am I anthropomorphizing or what here?) who is loved and who is in the middle of a divorce can become the subject (object?) of acrimony.  We have had cases here at Burns & Levinson that dealt with custody of dogs, cats and once, memorably, a horse.  I have negotiated, admittedly as part of a multimillion dollar divorce, an extremely detailed visiting plan for a dog.  There isn’t any case law in Massachusetts that treats animals as anything other than property, but that doesn’t stop pet owners from feeling otherwise.

Divorce is not the only time we think of pets.  For example, Leona Helmsley’s $12 million bequest to her Maltese triggered a lot of discussion.  Possibly as a response, Massachusetts has created a new pet trust law.  My able partner, Cliff Cohen, has written an interesting piece on pet trusts.  I would not be surprised to be negotiating one soon.

Have a safe and happy Halloween!