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Q & A Pennies and Puppies

puppy sad facephoto courtesy of Elisabeth Coelfen/iStock
To combat readers’ sticky divorce questions, Matthew Hertz, a Maryland divorce attorney, gives us the goods on grandparents’ rights, cheapskate dads, and pet custody battles.

Q: My husband filed for divorce and wants to take our 2-year-old golden retriever with him. I purchased the dog, but we both really want him. How can I make sure Scout stays with me?
- A.G., Jacksonville, Fla.

Hertz: That’s the hardest thing to divide up in the divorce because [many owners] view their dog as part of the family. But a dog is personal property, divided up no differently than a TV or couch. A dog [will theoretically be valued around] $500/$1000, so now you have to decide whether you’re going to pay your lawyer for 10 hours of work to fight over what’s essentially going to be a division of $500, or figure out a way to deal with it amongst yourselves. Otherwise the court is just going to pick someone. It’s not like a child where [the courts are concerned with his] best interest. It’s going to be “Where’s the dog living now? OK, leave the dog there.” That’s about as far as the judge is going to think about it. There’s no real way to make sure you get the dog. Whatever other issues are going on in the divorce, you need to suck it up and say to your partner, “All right, what do we do because otherwise this is going to be ridiculous.” At the end of the day, the judge can turn around and say, “You’re getting the big screen TV, so you get the dog,” because the dog is just personal property.

Q:  I just got papers that indicate my husband’s parents are suing me for “grandparents’ rights.” What are these and should I be worried?
- M.C., Dallas, Texas.

Hertz: This is an evolving area of the law. Many states have laws that say grandparents do have rights, usually visitation rights. You have to look into your own state laws to see if there are grandparents’ rights, whether you are providing them with their rights, and if you are reasonably withholding grandparents’ rights. Just because a grandparent has rights doesn’t mean they’re going to be in the best interest of the child. If you consult with an attorney, explain why you’re withholding visitation and find out if you need to allow visitation. Let a lawyer tell you if you’re doing it reasonably because a judge is going to order you to do so anyways. Sometimes it’s best to contact the grandparents and work out a visitation schedule.

Q: My ex is a cheapskate. He routinely pays less than the agreed-upon support and refuses to spend money on any extras such as a haircut, a new glove, or piano lessons. How can I coax some cash out of him?
- L.T., Dewitt, N.Y.

Hertz: You can always go to the courts when he’s not paying what’s required of him and he can be held in contempt of court. As for other expenses, Maryland and D.C. don’t require an ex to pay for anything beyond child support [but every state differs]. He may be a cheapskate, but there’s nothing you can do about it. Once he’s paying his full amount of support, that’s all the mother’s entitled to. Everything else is voluntary.

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