Divorce is nasty business especially when it comes to division of assets, spousal support and child custody. Another area rife with fighting? Custody of the family pet. The number of divorce cases in which pet custody is an issue is on the rise as is the intensity of the fighting over it. Just as celebs are not immune from bitter child custody battles so too do they face fierce fights over family pets. And because celebrities have the money to hire tough lawyers and can afford protracted litigation often their pet custody battles are among the nastiest.
Legally speaking, most states consider pets property which means courts consider them as they would any asset and not at all akin to a child. Thankfully though this is not always the case and recently we’ve seen judges in various jurisdictions looking at other factors. In fact a New York case moved away from the chattel (legal jargon for property) view of pets and took a more holistic approach, asking what was the best interest of all—not of the pet, per se, but of all involved in the dispute. This is good news for the more than 80 million(yup!) American families that own a pet.
Let’s take a look at some well known celebrity breakups in which custody of the pets was a pivotal issue.
Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas. When these two decided to end their almost twenty year marriage, Stella, their youngest child, was already eighteen years old so custody was no longer an issue (child custody is not legally relevant once a child is over eighteen). However, the couple had three dogs (two were adopted together from an animal rescue group) and Melanie wanted to keep all of them. Word on the street was that their $50 million divorce case was contentious in large part over custody of these pups. Melanie made it clear that she wanted to keep them and many believed she was the better pup parent. There is no official word about how things ended up but my guess is that Melanie got what she wanted. These two seem to still be pretty good friends and are often seen out and about supporting their children at various events. Had Antonio not relented on the dog issue, this would not likely be the case.
Amber Heard and Johnny Depp. Most of us are probably glad this very messy Hollywood divorce is finally over. I know I am. But what was worked out early and fairly amicably between these two was who got custody of Pistol and Boo, the dogs the couple adopted during their brief marriage (Amber also got custody of their horse, Arrow, but I’m not sure there was much of a fight over that). You might remember hearing about these dogs—they’ve been in the news before. They are the same dogs that Amber and Johnny brought into Australia without declaring them at customs or obtaining the proper paperwork for them. Though Amber pleaded guilty to providing a false immigration document to immigration officials, the pair got away easy. As punishment, Amber and Johnny were allowed to make a public service announcement. Amber apologized for her conduct and praised Australia’s biosecurity laws; Johnny encouraged others to declare everything when they come into Australia. Lucky for them that they got away easy on this one as the dissolution of their marriage was anything but that.
Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart. First let me say I am a big fan of both of these actors but I’m still very pissed that Kristen cheated on Robert (Team Edward!). He just did not deserve that! And with a married guy? I feel as if Kristen is better than that and if she wanted to end things with Robert she could have done so much less painfully and publically. But, she was young and everyone makes mistakes. Maybe that’s why when she and Robert could not initially agree on who should get custody of their newly adopted dogs, Bernie and Bear, she ultimately relented. I’d like to think it was an act of remorse and contrition. And, I bet it was. She certainly didn’t want to cause more pain to her one time love.
Mandy Moore and Ryan Adams. It’s great seeing Mandy Moore happy and starring in the hit television show, This Is Us because we know this young actress has been through a lot. She and Ryan two were working through their divorce settlement after ending their six year marriage when talks apparently stalled over a number of issues, one very big one being who would get custody of their eight pets—six cats and two dogs. Mandy got to keep all of her fur babies but she did seek pet support payments from Ryan. With the success of her new show, doubt she needs it anymore.
Britney Spears and Kevin Federline. Britney is back on top and has been for years now but for a while many of us were worried that she’d never be the Britney Spears whom we first met. We all know well about her emotional breakdown, the shaved head, the breaking of car windows, the run-ins with the law (Click here for more about Britney’s legal battles). When Kevin sought and won custody of their two children there was also an issue of who got the family pets. What’s interesting in this case is that PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) got involved and wrote an open letter to Kevin, begging him to take the animals. Whether or not Britney got custody of the pets has never been publicly revealed but it was a very sad, difficult time for her and assuming she was capable of taking care of her dogs, there is no doubt they would have brought her comfort. On the other hand though, the pets would provide the same to the kids with the added benefit of stability. Judging by Britney’s commitment to her children (and her pets) over the past several years, it seems as if all has worked out. But, as a vegan and animal lover myself, I’m not sure PETA really needed to get involved in this one.
Drew Barrymore and Tom Green. Drew Barrymore and comedian Tom Green were married for a short five months. In Tom’s words, the marriage was “a crazy, whirlwind of a time.” Certainly he didn’t make life any calmer when he decided to fight Drew for custody of their yellow lab, Flossie. You might remember it was Flossie’s barking that saved the couple’s lives when their home caught fire in 1998.