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This story first appeared in the Aug. 9 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Pets are furry family members to many couples — and can spark nasty custody battles when those couples divorce. But courts often will not rule on pet ownership. “You don’t want to be the lawyer going in front of a judge asking to divide a pet,” says Freid and Goldsman divorce lawyer Jon S. Summers. When Fido’s fate does come before a court, the verdict could be heartbreaking. California law considers pets property, like a TV, so the judge almost always grants ownership to one ex, leaving the other petless. And anything from pet-food receipts to testimony from neighbors and therapists might be used in court to determine the pet’s rightful caretaker. But most couples, says Summers, reach pet custody agreements outside the courtroom. Here’s who won in five famous battles:
HUGH HEFNER VS. CHRISSY HARRIS
After breaking off their engagement in June 2011, the couple battled over who would win ownership of Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Charlie. Harris originally allowed Hefner to keep Charlie but changed her mind that December.
Winner: Hefner retained custody as evidenced by both dog and Hef being featured on Nat Geo Wild’s Dog Whisperer in July 2012.
BRITNEY SPEARS VS. KEVIN FEDERLINE
During their divorce, Spears lost custody of the couple’s two children, Sean Preston and Jayden James. PETA wrote Federline a letter urging him to file for custody of their pets, too, which he did.
Winner: Inconclusive for the pets; only the divorced parties (and their dog walkers) know. Federline continues to have custody of the kids.
DREW BARRYMORE VS. TOM GREEN
The couple divorced in 2001 after being married for less than six months, then fought for custody of yellow Labrador Flossie, who saved their lives by waking them during a 1998 house fire.
Winner: Barrymore, Flossie’s original owner, won the case.
JON GOSSELIN VS. KATE GOSSELIN
The former reality stars battled over custody of their two German shepherds, Shoka and Nala, who were purchased on an episode of Jon & Kate Plus 8 in February 2009. Jon brought the dogs back to their breeder that September, saying Kate was a negligent owner.
Winner: Jon lost custody.
TIGER WOODS VS. ELIN NORDEGREN
Nordegren took possession of three of the couple’s dogs after Woods’ November 2009 car accident exposed to the world his infidelity. During their divorce proceedings, Woods and Nordegren each fought for custody of the dogs.
Winner: Woods has been seen walking the dogs.
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