By Sara Pitcher
In pet custody cases, because of the distinction between other personal property and animals, a few forward looking courts have begun to consider other factors that would allow the pet to live in the place that is deemed to be in the best interests of the pet.
Here are five pet custody case examples showing how judges tend to rule in those instances.
One judge in Maryland recently decided to break the tradition of forcing the parties to sell the pet if they could not agree to possession and awarded split custody of the parties’ dog, with each party getting the dog for alternating periods of six months at a time.
The court in Houseman v. Dare found that the parties’ dog was joint property and therefore ordered that the dog would stay with the husband for five weeks and then go to the wife for five weeks.
The court in this case specifically noted that the dog was property and so it could not award custody; the court was bound only to award alternating possession of the dog.
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Arrington v. Arrington is another example of the court advocating for continued visitation with a dog. Mr. Arrington agreed to Mrs. Arrington’s custody of the dog if he could have reasonable visitation with the dog.
The trial court named Mrs. Arrington to be managing conservator of the dog. Mr. Arrington appealed this appointment. The appellate court, however, affirmed the appointment with the hope that both parties would continue to enjoy the companionship of the dog.
In another case, Bennett v. Bennett, the trial court awarded visitation with the dog to the wife. When the husband refused to allow visitation, the wife went back to the trial court to seek a change of custody. The husband appealed the original court order claiming that the dog was a premarital asset. The Court of Appeals noted that:
“While several states have given family pets special status within dissolution proceedings, we think such a course is unwise. Determinations as to custody and visitation lead to continuing enforcement and supervision problems. Our courts are overwhelmed with the supervision of custody, visitation, and support matters related to the protection of our children. We cannot undertake the same responsibility as to animals.”
Another example of a failed visitation agreement was seen in In re the Marriage of Fore. In that case, the dog was given to the wife as her tangible personal property with visitation to the husband during the first seven days of every month.
Also, if the wife wanted to board the dog, she was required to offer the additional time to the husband instead of putting the dog in a kennel. This visitation schedule was not successful and the sheriff had to pick the dog up from the husband and return him to the wife.
The judge finally ordered that the husband had relinquished all of his rights and access to the dog.
Based on the difficulties with enforcement and the toll that continued supervision over animal visitation cases would take, it is easy to see why so few courts have undertaken the challenge by awarding visitation with companion animals and why so many cases where visitation was attempted were unsuccessful.
 Steve Lash, This Puppy’s Not Property in Divorce Case, (July 6, 2010), http://mddailyrecord.com/2010/07/06/this-puppy’s-not-property-in-divorce-case/.
 Houseman v. Dare, 405 N.J. Super. 538, 545 (App.Div. 2009).
 Arrington v. Arrington, 613 S.W.2d 565, 569 (Tex. Civ. App. Fort Worth 1981).
 Bennett v. Bennett, 655 So. 2d 109, 110 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1st Dist. 1995).
 In re Marriage of Fore, No. DW 243974 (Minn. Dist. Ct. Nov. 9, 2000).