Pet custody is sweeping the world. In the People’s Republic of China, a recent divorce settlement was stalled after the divorcing couple was unable to agree on who was entitled to custody of the pet corgi.
The New Kids in Divorce?
The couple, surnamed Xu and Li, from Quzhou city in Zhejiang, one of the more wealthy provinces in eastern China, agreed to get divorced in April this year. The parties reached agreement on the distribution of their joint assets and debts after their seven-year marriage, with one furry exception.
The couple have no children, but both are enthusiastic animal lovers. Accordingly, custody of a pet corgi dog they had raised together became a central focus of their divorce.
The family court helped the couple divide up joint assets, including property and vehicles quickly, as neither party had any objections. However, when it came to their pet dog, the court was surprised that both demanded full custody of the pet corgi.
Florida Pet Custody
I’ve written on the development of pet custody cases and statutes around the world before. Pet custody cases are becoming more and more prevalent internationally. That’s because lawmakers and advocacy groups are promoting the notion that the legal system should act in the best interests of animals as pet ownership increases.
Pets are becoming a recognized part of the family, some would argue they’re a modern couple’s new kids. About 15 years ago, states began to allow people to leave their estates to care for their pets. Recently, courts have gone so far as to award shared custody, visitation and even alimony payments to pet owners.
Florida doesn’t have pet custody or visitation laws. Florida courts are already overwhelmed with the supervision of custody, visitation, and support matters related to the protection of children.
Not all states have ruled out a visitation schedule for dogs like Florida. For instance, while Texas also views dogs as personal property, in one case a Texas court authorized visitation. A new California law changed the way pet custody is handled in divorce cases. The law gives judges the power to consider the care and the best interest of the pet when making decisions.
According to a recent survey of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, about 30% of attorneys have seen a decrease over the past three years in pet custody cases in front of a judge.
Over the last decade, the question of pet custody has become more prevalent, particularly when it involves a two-income couple with no children who shared responsibility for, and are both attached to, the pet.
Quzhou’s Corgi Custody Case
The woman, Xu, told the court that she deserved ownership of the corgi. She testified that not only did she buy the dog, but that she raised the corgi by herself. The corgi has become a part of her family and has been by her side ever since, she claimed.
In undermining the Husband’s custody request, she added that her ex-husband Li didn’t take responsibility for looking after the corgi. She described him as a workaholic, who in his spare time played video games.
Although Li acknowledged that he did not feed the animal as often as his ex-wife, or clean up after it, he said he often walked the dog and considered it to be his child.
The court accepted that the corgi was a joint asset in the marriage, but one which couldn’t be divided easily. Eventually, the couple reached an agreement that the corgi would live with the woman, while every month Li should pay alimony to her for taking care of the dog. If the animal became ill, they must share the dog’s medical expenses. Li was given legal visitation rights to the corgi.
After the story was reported, it caused widespread online conversation about the fate of pets in a divorce. One person commented: “A pet is a part of the family, it’s understandable the divorcing couple wanted to fight for it.” Another said: “Now that more couples give up on having children, keeping pets as kids will probably rise.”
Data showed that in 2021 the number of pet owners in China had reached 68.44 million. In the U.S. roughly 70 percent of households own a pet, with dogs being the most numerous pet and salt water fish coming in last.
The South China Morning Post article is here.