Divorce on the leash

Divorced couples bring to justice cases concerning pets’ joint-custody.

Spread out through the gynecologist Cassiano Andalaft’s apartment, several objects point out the void caused by the absence of an old dweller. Pictures, toys and a designated space with empty bowls belong to the 3 years old, 73 lb boxer named Boris. While holding a portrait, his owner cannot hide the sad look in his eyes.

The reason is the fight for Boris’ custody Cassiano and his former wife took to court since the end of their 2 years marriage, last December. Andalaft kept the dog for the first 4 months. “In April, she asked me to spend a month with Boris and I did not even question it.” remembers the gynecologist. “By the time she was supposed to bring the dog back, she started to outwit me.” Apart from his fellow for 4 moths, the doctor considered to file a lawsuit against his former wife. Cassiano established, 15 days ago, a deal to pick Boris up on the weekends, but he wants more. His intention is to add a clause to his divorce agreement, which is supposed to be signed this month, to ensure the pet’s joint-custody. “If the clause is approved, Boris will live with me for half of the month.”said the owner. “I do not ever want us to be apart anymore.” The joint-custody has been applied for years on the divorce of couples who had kids together, but only recently it became an option for pet owners. Considering data provided by 5 big law firms from the city of São Paulo (Chamma, Euclides de Oliveira, Zucchi Weissheimer, Gerke e Guimarães Bastos), the number of cases regarding pet custody has duplicated on the past 12 months, reaching 15 cases. “Besides dwelling, the cases’ topics go over visiting days and even veterinary bills.” says the lawyer who represents Andalaft, Gladys Chamma. To end the judicial battle, the magistrates base their decision on three main aspects. First, they consider if there was an original pet owner, then they evaluate which one of the owners have better conditions to keep the animals. “If the couple has kids, it is more likely that the pet will go to the kid’s home.” explains the lawyer Alessandra Bastos. There are a few other arguments that could lead the custody decision. “Recently, a woman claimed that her dog helps her to treat her depression symptoms.” said Daniela Morsello, the judge from the 1st Family and Successions’ jurisdiction. “I am still analyzing the case.”

The demand also got visibility due to celebrity’s cases. The actress Thaila Ayala and the actor Paulo Vilhena, that broke up on 2013 after a 5 year relationship,  for example. Nowadays, the former couple shares the custody of their bulldog Zacarias. It is a comfortable situation for both, since they travel frequently and have someone they trust to take care of the pet. However, in some cases, the joint-custody brings new problems to the routine. As the situation Camila Malacrida, a nutritionist told us. Owner of three lhasa apso dogs, she added a clause to her divorce agreement, signed in 2013, to share the custody with her former husband. The pets would alternate homes every week. Camila bought an apartment near her clinic, in Osasco, to visit her pets during her intervals between her appointments. After 3 months, she realized the constant change of environment was not good for her beloved animals and she gave up the guard. “They are already senior dogs, they feel more confortable in a single spot”, justifies Malacrida. “Some animals, specially cats, need their environment to be delimitated.”, explains the animals coach Alexandre Rossi, o Dr. Pet, who has shared with an ex the custody of Sofia, a mutt dog, for a year, until Sofia died of a cancer, last July. As in other law jurisdictions, specialists recommend that the parts try an agreement before they start the judicial action. Specially because, in this case, recurring to justice does not ensure that the problem will be solved. Since there are no rules that regulate animals’ custody on the country, the judge might deny taking the case. There is a project running in the Federal Assembly to change this scenario. The project, created by the deputy Ricardo Tripoli (PSDB), states that, in case of litigious divorce, the custody must be established by affective bond. If the project gets approval, the parts will have the opportunity to prove they have more proximity with the pet – through pictures, for example – and win the case with sole custody. The proposal is being evaluated for the Environmental Commission. It still has to go through the Constitution and Justice Commission before it goes to vote. “I believe it will become part of the law by November”, says Tripoli.

Canine Court

Can I establish the joint-custody of any pet?
Yes, in practical matters. But cats like to have their territory well defined and are less adaptable to environment change than dogs, for example.

What can I negotiate?
The most common topics are the dwelling, the visiting days and the financial division, as the pet shop bills, for example.

What is the best permanence time interval to switch homes?
Usually the agreements estimate a 15 days interval to switch homes. Another option is one of the parts keep the pets on weekdays and the other part on weekends.

Can Justice deny analyzing my case?
Yes. The present law considers animals to be property. Therefore, Justice does not regulate the battle for its custody yet.