No matter how much we love our pets, there’s always the chance they will
run into a legal situation. Attorney David Aylor took time to answer questions from our readers in this edition of Ask a Lawyer.
QUESTION: As if my divorce isn’t difficult enough, my husband is fighting me to keep our family dog. We got it the first year we were married. I am staying in the family home and believe it’s best for our dog to stay here. How are pets dealt with during a divorce? –Heartbroken Hannah, West Ashley
DAVID AYLOR: Hannah, I’m sorry to hear of your troubles. Most often a dog is going to be considered marital property. The issue then becomes who gets to keep it when we are talking about an animal as opposed to an asset like a house or a car which could be sold and the proceeds split.
The best answer I can give you is to describe two potential options. One is that you show you were the main caretaker for the dog, as to its daily grooming and feeding as well as its medical visits.
The second option is for you and your ex-husband to agree to joint custody just like you would with a child. While I know that sounds somewhat silly, I’ve seen it work well for some people who just don’t want to give up their favorite pet. Hope this helps!
QUESTION: I am a business owner and sometimes think people are pulling one over on me when they say they are bringing in a “service dog.” What are business owners allowed to ask and do when someone brings one into a place of business?
–Skeptical Scotty, James island
DAVID AYLOR: Scotty, this is an issue many businesses have been struggling with over the last several years. Hopefully getting correct answers to this question will help you distinguish between true service animals and just folks who are trying to keep their dog close to them in all environments.
The first distinction that has to be made is the difference between a “service dog” and a “therapy dog”.
A service dog is a dog which has been trained to specifically perform or assist with a task for a person with a disability. A therapy dog does not generally have to have any training or perform a certain task for its owner.
In regards to questioning an individual with a service dog, it is completely within your rights to ask them if the dog is a service dog due to a disability and if so what work or task has the dog been trained to perform.
However, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) you are not allowed to ask about a person’s disability, such as “what is your disability,” or “how long have you had your disability.”