Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas are separated after 18 years of marriage. They claim their divorce will be handled amicably. Melanie apparently already prepared for a custody battle, but this fight does not involve the couple’s daughter. Their daughter, Estella, will be turning 18 in September, so there will not be a lengthy custody battle over her. Melanie has asked the court for primary custody, but this is seen to both parties as a non-issue. Melanie is however calling herself a better parent to the couple’s three dogs. Melanie has apparently even said it would be in the dog’s “best interest” to live with her, a standard which is usually reserved for child custody matters.
This is certainly not the first time a couple has fought over pet custody. Unfortunately, the courts still see animals as property, and treat them as such. Several animal rights groups have lobbied to make some changes to the law. These days, a majority of households have at least one pet. Many households are made up of two spouses and multiple animals, but no children. When these marriages dissolve, the animals become the center of legal battles. People are free to make up custody schedules for these pets after a divorce, but the courts will not help to enforce such contracts.
In Pennsylvania, there are no pet custody laws in place, and no laws have been introduced to fix this grey area of the law. Unfortunately, when a couple splits up in PA, they must decide for themselves who gets the pets. In some states, the courts may help to make this decision, but again, the court only looks at these animals as property, and will not make a decision based on the “best interest” of the pet. Perhaps it is time for state legislatures to begin to address this issue. As more and more households across the county adopt animals, it is important that these animals are well cared for, and not neglected in the face of a divorce. As most animal guardians will admit, animals are not property, but rather members of the household just like humans are. Therefore, it may be time to consider a pet custody system in Pennsylvania.