Divorces typically revolve around two types of settlements: property and kids. Divorce software for attorneys is designed to handle those but there is a third type of settlement that is gaining attention, and that is who gets the family dog. How do you attach a value to a beloved family pet?
Pets as Property
The law considers pets to be property, specifically chattel. Regardless of their sentimental value to the humans in the family, the legal value is purely the animal’s fair market price. If that lovable mutt cost you a few dollars down at the shelter then that is what the court will value it at in a divorce.
However there is a change in the air. A growing number of states are considering cases where divorcing couples are fighting over a pet. In a recent case in New York Justice Matthew Cooper noted, “Although Joey the miniature dachshund is not a human being and cannot be treated as such, he is decidedly more than a piece of property, marital or otherwise.” Attorneys, judges and legislators are trying to view pets in a new light.
Pets as Children
Nobody would consider putting a price on a child like you would the family car. Most pet owners would agree that the animal, whether a dog, a cat or a potbellied pig, has greater worth than the purchase price. Some attorneys are using divorce legal software to treat the pets as children and to set up custody and support arrangements.
From the software’s point of view, it doesn’t care if Bella is a daughter or a tuxedo cat so an attorney could simply enter a pet as a child. However pets tend to be quite a bit cheaper than kids since they don’t need clothes, private school or cell phones. Taking a child support calculation at its face value would be unfair to the non-custodial “parent” but it could act as a starting point.
Taking the Third Option
As Justice Cooper and a growing number of judges have noted, pets fall somewhere in between property and children. That’s a pretty large gray area. Currently, although there have been a handful of pet custody cases, no state has laws governing how pet custody should be handled in a divorce. Family law judges, particularly those who are not pet owners themselves, are quite likely to take the “pets as chattel” route.
However as family law attorneys know, courts are seldom involved in divorces. Ideally the attorneys can negotiate a settlement without involving a judge and that is where there is room to be creative with pets. Attorneys can use either the property value or the child support features of settlement statement software to come up with innovative arrangements that are best for all concerned.
Tools are as versatile as the people who use them. Find creative ways to use legal practice management software in situations the developers never imagined.