Jonathan Marks: Attorney talks pets, divorce proceedings

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Margie Ellisor: Alright, a little celebrity divorce talk now, Nick Cannon and Mariah Carey calling it quits. There are some quibbles in their divorce, they’re barking mad over the family pets. That’s right, eight jack russells are apparently in dispute here before they can actually dissolve that marriage. Jonathan Marks is an attorney who practices family law in Creve Coeur, and he joins us here this afternoon to talk about this case and how it might apply to other, perhaps less famous, divorce cases that you know about. Good afternoon, thanks for being here.

Jonathan Marks: My pleasure, thank you for having me.

ME: So this is the…the other portions of property as we understand in the Mariah and Nick divorce are maybe being worked out, but the dogs are the issue here. How usual, or unusual is that? Is this kind of Hollywood gone mad, or do you actually see stuff like this locally?

JM: We do see things like this locally, but obviously it’s much more sensationalized because of who is, you know, having the divorce. What you would normally see within a situation, especially from a couple that’s maybe older and doesn’t have any children, that a pet can become the equivalent of a child and have a lot of dispute in regard to who is going to end up having that pet.

ME: And just like children, a lot of things you really can’t split it, right?

JM: Correct.

ME: Someone’s going to get it, maybe more often than the other. Talk about how the law views things like animals. What is that in terms of settling the dispute?

JM: Sure. So in Missouri, we’re essentially looking at the animal as property. And we would treat it no differently than dividing stocks, dividing automobiles…and so it’s a very difficult approach to just kind of take someone that’s an animal that you have cared for for all of these years and look at it as to how you’re going to split it in that same manner. A lot of couples do try to use mediation or other forms of alternative dispute resolution to try to resolve these issues so that they can come up with a solution that makes sense for the two of them so that they can both have some rights to that pet that they have cared for during the years.

ME: So does that mean that you could actually have a visitation schedule for an animal?

JM: You could, I mean, you’re not necessarily going to see that through your normal course of litigation if you have a suit down in one of the court houses. It’s not as if a judge is going to enter into something like that.

ME: Into a formal visitation as you would for a child?

JM: You may see in other states that are progressive like California and New York. You’re probably not going to see it here for some period of time, but if you go through and you reach your own agreement, and you negotiate a settlement for that particular pet, you absolutely can have something like that put into place.

ME: If you, you know, you certainly deal with judges in family court, if this actually got before a judge I assume there are some judges that would be pretty annoyed that they’re having to decide who gets the shih tzu.

JM: Well, you never know. It depends-

ME: I mean it is a part of their job, but I mean this is the kind of thing where maybe as adults you should be working this out on your own.

JM: I think that the court certainly would probably request that the parties try to work something out, because it doesn’t want to be involved in that situation that would be very difficult. But I absolutely believe that the courts here in the Saint Louis metropolitan area would all take it seriously and look at it in the same way that they would in a child custody dispute because they know it is important to the parties, and if it’s important to the parties it should be important to the court.

ME: What about kind of preventing disputes like this in the first place? Is there anything you can do ahead of time?

JM: Sure. So what you would normally see is a prenuptial agreement to talk about how you’re going to divide your financial assets in the event of a divorce, so what’s becoming popular on the coast is doing what is called a pre-pup. And so if you do know going into it you are going to adopt a pet, you’re going to incur expenses and you want to prevent disputes should you end up in a divorce, you can enter into those agreements and make sure that that doesn’t become a problem.

ME: As the “just in case” safety mechanism.

JM: Just an insurance policy.

ME: Okay. Is this kind of one of the crazier cases that you have ever heard of?

JM: It’s crazy in that the parties have the ability to resolve twin kids, and they also have the ability to dissolve and rectify 520 million dollars of money, but they can’t resolve 8 jack terrier russells.

ME: Jack russell terriers.

JM: Oh, I apologize.

ME: As a jack russell owner, he once…

JM: I apologize.

ME: I mean they are great dogs, but 8 of them you would think they could sort of work this out.

JM: You would hope so.

ME: Alright. We will see what happens. Jonathan thanks so much for being here. If you need Jonathan’s help with dissolving your dogs, you marriage, or whatever else, he’s in Creve Coeur, and you can find him there. I’m sure he’d be happy to talk to you. We appreciate it, thanks very much.

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