CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- If you're a dog person then you know- they can be a person's best friend. However, what happens when you realize your other best friend isn't the one for you and it's best just to end the relationship? Who keeps Fido is starting to raise legal questions as pet cases appear more and more in North Carolina courtrooms.
"North Carolina hasn't evolved like other states have. The historic view is that family pets, domestic pets are viewed as property- nothing more, nothing less," said Will Medlin, Charlotte family law attorney with Horack Talley.
While other states like New York and Idaho have taken more of a 'child custody’ approach to pet custody disputes, the law in North Carolina can be “absolutely devastating,” Medlin says.
Medlin tried a case last year where a boyfriend and girlfriend lived together and adopted a dog together. When they split up the ex-girlfriend took the dog when she left. The boyfriend sued her and said the dog was his personal property.
The case went before a civil judge who found that, despite the fact that the original adoption paperwork was in the boyfriend’s name, everything else contradicted that by showing a clear co-ownership of the dog. In a co-ownership situation like this, where the parties had equal rights to the dog, the court could not require the girlfriend to return the dog to the boyfriend. Because the boyfriend and girlfriend were co-owners, neither had superior rights over the other. That means the girlfriend got to keep the dog because the court couldn’t force her to give it back.
Medlin believes pet custody cases will continue to grow in 2016 as dogs and cats take a larger role in people's lives, especially millennials. His best advice? Get it in writing, and if needed have a lawyer look at it. "Enter a contract that will determine what will happen to the pet if you split up. And if you’re going to get married, get it in a pre-nuptial agreement."