Somehow, I stumbled across this article about people fighting over custody of their dogs in divorce cases. Written in 2006, it discusses appellate court decisions from across the country on the subject, and the author's opinion of changing standards. I know of no reported California cases on the subject.
Historically, dogs were personal property. As I recall, there used to be California cases saying that cats weren't property, because no one could actually own a cat, but for this purpose I'm not going to research the subject since it's not intended as a treatise on the law. [As i recall, these cat cases dealt with issues such as whether a neighbor could steal your cat or dog, or be responsible for injuring one.]
When lawyers in North County [San Diego], where I practice, talk about old time practitioners, they often tell about a major trial over ownership of a parrot some decades ago. It involved two very litigious attorneys who have since probably joined the bird in the hereafter. [One billed himself as "The Prince of Darkness."]
We all laugh at the absurdity of people spending 10's of thousands of dollars over custody of a pet - now, I appreciate their attachments to an animal, but essentially they are gambling that the judge will see it their way. It's one thing to fight over a child and how many hours of time share might swing one way or the other depending on how the judge sees things, but with rare exception the dog is going to one or the other [please don't get me started on judges who try to set visitation rights for pets].
In a website that attacks judges and lawyers in San Diego [that will go unnamed], there are tales about courtroom fights in our county over dogs and cats, including a lengthy trial over Fifi - one-half of the 3-day trial was allegedly devoted to the animal. Now I understand an attachment to pets, but the Wife's fees ran about $150,000. The website and that article is critical of lawyers charging outrageous fees over such issues. I won't list the website, as it's largely run by a disgruntled litigant, who is occasionally right, but often wrong - he [or she] is anonymous, from Beverly Hills.
That site portrays the fights as a way for lawyers to gain fees at the expense of their clients - now that happens a lot. But, the clients allow it to happen by making the issue over which they are fighting more important than their financial and emotional futures. In our parrot case, the lawyers were just argumentative and overly competitive - this was in the day before divorce cases often ran to days or weeks, so the arguments and testimony took only a few hours. Our lawyers weren't fighting to gain a few bucks, but over principle and their client's desires - the cost wasn't a major factor in those days, but winning was. I wish I could say the same today.
Over the decades I have practiced, I have seen many people fight to the death over absurd issues, spending endless dollars on issues they can't win or as to which there is going to be no winner.
Fighting over a child has a certain biological imperative about it - you can't go to a kid show and pick up another kid bred for the same look and temperament. But you can probably find a dog that gives you as much love and affection as the one you give away in the divorce - especially if you have $150,000 to spend since you aren't buying your lawyer a new Corvette or a few dozen St. John suits.
Friday, some friends brought home a playful, loving chocolate Labradoodle puppy to replace the Golden Retriever they had lost a few months ago to illness. It is amazing how, in one day, the new member of the family has taken over as the focus of their lives. And, they have $149,000 left to spend on something worthwhile. It's not Fifi, but they don't seem to notice as they never knew Fifi.
Sometimes cases just need to be decided on the flip of a coin, and the parties move on.