Dog custody disputes will bring growls
MANY lazy columnists (which is either an oxymoron or a redundancy) would open today's discussion with the cliché "marriages are going to the dogs." But since this columnist avoids clichés like the plague, I wouldn't do that. Besides, it's not marriages that are going to the dogs, but divorces.
According to a recent poll by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, an increasing number of divorces involve custody disputes over who gets the dog.
"When the legal fur starts flying, an overwhelming 90 percent of the attorneys said that the animal caught in the middle is usually a dog," a cliché-infused press release from the matrimonial lawyers group said. The legal fur starts flying? Someone should track down the lawyer who wrote that line and smack him into unconsciousness with a big, big, furry subpoena.
BEFORE we continue on the subject of dog custody cases, let's clear up this business of matrimonial lawyers. Matrimonial lawyers are basically what we used to call, usually with upper lip curled, "divorce lawyers." But divorce lawyers apparently began feeling a little embarrassed that they were getting rich off of the breakup of marriages -- unions between loving people that, according to the small print, were not to be put asunder until death do them part. The contract of marriage has undergone some minor overhauls in the past few generations. The "till death do us part" bit has been chucked over the side. And the "love, honor and obey" section has been dragged out behind the barn and shot.
Divorce lawyers turned marriage dissolution into a contact sport with the ironic consequence that the longer and more acrimonious a divorce, the more money a divorce lawyer makes. Two really good opposing divorce lawyers can stretch a divorce out 20 or 30 years, during which they both make enough money to send their children to law school to become divorce lawyers and pick up the case when the original divorce lawyers retire.
Facing that kind of bad press, the divorce lawyers renamed themselves "matrimonial lawyers" and formed an "academy" to house them all. It was a good move. The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers sounds a hell of a lot better than the Coven of Combative Divorce Counsels.
But we digress. We are here to discuss the fact that dogs are increasingly the subject of divorce custody disputes. This should come as no surprise since dogs really are considered part of people's families. Cats are considered sort of visiting freeloaders so they seldom are involved in custody disputes. And gerbils? Forget it. Even homicidal divorcees don't fight over who gets the gerbil. In a tie, the gerbil goes to the cat.
BUT DOGS are different. They are almost human in the way they share their love, protection and loyalty. The fact that dogs are the only family members who can be "put down" when they get old and start pooping on the living room carpet is another matter.
"More and more couples are opting to have a judge ultimately decide which party will truly be the dog's best friend," said the matrimonial lawyer's cliché-infested press release. (OK, "dog's best friend" was a twist on the real cliché, but still, can we agree the press release writer at least needs to be whipped?)
I would guess that any messy divorce (now THAT is redundant) in which the custody of a dog is at issue would mean the blessed union did not produce any human children. I can't see a husband or wife declaring, "You can have the kids, but damn it, I'm taking Muffy!"
The most interesting (and non-cliché-related) part of the poll results is that a few divorce cases actually involve custody disputes over "horses, boa constrictors and cows." I'd love to see the transcript of that case.
Judge: The wife gets the house and the horse. The husband gets the snake and the dog. Both parties will split the cow. Now, light the barbecue and let's party!
, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists' 2004 First Place Award winner for humor writing, appears Sundays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org