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All dogs go to mediation: a 'tale' of canine custody and divorce

Most of us in Tennessee know at least one pair of empty-nesters or a married couple who haven't had children. Many of us also probably know at least one such couple who have a dog that gets the kind of love and adoration normally reserved for children. Now ask yourself, what would happen if that couple decided to get a divorce but couldn't reach an agreement about which one of them would get to keep the beloved pet?

Would a judge be able to rule on that? Could there be a trial? Believe it or not, there's a good chance that a dispute like that could be decided by a pet mediator. (And no, that's not a typo.)

Because these types of disputes are becoming increasingly common, and because most judges are required to treat animals as property by statutes or precedent -- pet-related mediation is quickly becoming something of a specialty.

Debra Hamilton, a pet mediator based in New York, was recently called on to save a million-dollar divorce settlement that was jeopardized by one husband's last minute request for shared custody of a dog. As is typical in "normal" divorce mediation sessions, the spouses took turns expressing their positions. As needed, Ms. Hamilton would then restate or rephrase what was said for clarification.

It took only two hours of back-and-forth discussion to achieve a solution that satisfied both spouses.

While neither Tennessee nor any other state has yet taken the step of making pet conflicts a specialty for divorce mediators, couples who can't agree on living arrangements for their pets may be able to find a mediator who has experience with these issues if they take the time to look or have an attorney conduct a search for them.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, "A Dog's Bark Is Better Than Litigation's Bite," Veronica Dagher, April 30, 2012.

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