Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Step on no pets

The Mercury News in San Jose, California has a story about an emerging field in family law practice - custody disputes over pets.

According to the article, 25% of respondents to a survey by the 1,600-member American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers said that pet custody cases have increased noticeably since 2001. Breakups in same-sex marriages, civil unions and domestic partnerships are among reasons pet custody fights have become more common.

The article quotes family law attorney David Pisarra, who says pet custody cases have grown as much as 15 percent in his office over the last five years. Mr. Pisarra not only litigates these cases, he lives them. Mr. Pisarra shares custody of his dog with his now remarried “ex.” The article says that the ex's remarriage has “introduced a step-dog” in addition to the dog the “ex” shares with Mr. Pisarra. I use the term “ex” because that is what the article uses. The article is vague as to the gender of the “ex.” The article is unclear as to whether Mr. Pisarra's marriage was a traditional marriage or a same-sex marriage (not that there's anything wrong with that).

Mr. Pisarra has even written a book about “co-parenting a pet with an ex” titled “What About Wally.”

Lest our readers think that the article or this post are simply infomercials for Mr. Pisarra, the article also quotes Silvana Raso, a New Jersey family law attorney, for the proposition that people have begun viewing pets as family members rather than possessions. As a result, Ms. Raso says, people are willing to fight for custody of a pet in a way that people would not have during the Neolithic age known as the Twentieth Century. The downside to this, of course, is situations where one spouse uses the pets as a weapon. Ms. Raso had a case where an estranged wife killed her client’s two dogs.

Obviously, it is a good thing when people like Mr. Pisarra and his “ex” are able to amicably work out a custody/visitation arrangement for pets. Conversely, I feel safe in saying that killing a pet as a way of punishing a spouse is a terrible idea and, I suspect, illegal just about everywhere. Neither of these observations are what prompted me to write this post.

The reason I wrote the post is that it illustrates my belief the law is wonderful because there is always something new to learn. To quote Solon, thanks to the law “I grow old ever learning many things.” It had never occurred to me that custody arrangements for pets would be an actual thing. It also never occurred to me that “step-dog” is a thing. However, this may be because “step-dog” isn’t a thing. A search of the term on Google and Bing suggests the term isn’t used by anyone other than the writer of the article. Finally, it also hadn’t occurred to me that one consequence of the rise of gay marriage is that reporters have not figured out what terms to apply to former spouses in same-sex marriages (which is not to say that Mr. Pisarra was in a same-sex marriage. The article's use of "ex" simply made me think of the issue).

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