MUMBAI: In a unique instance of taking care of pets after a divorce by mutual consent, a city couple chalked out how and when their two dogs would be shared and who would have dominant custody.
Childless in an 18-year-long marriage, a banker and his homemaker wife had rescued and adopted two one-month-old Indie pups three years ago. They didn’t want to separate the two siblings and put in place a detailed plan, including a heads up before taking them out of town on vacation.
The couple had filed for a mutual consent divorce in February just before the Covid-19 outbreak. Both are in their early 40s. The couple said after marriage, their “habits, views, and lifestyles” did not match and their differences grew irreconcilable, prompting them to part ways. But they did not want their pets to be apart.
The banker would have their primary custody with the homemaker getting them for “a continuous period of one month” thrice a year. But their plan could be paused and either “parent” could take custody of the dogs, with prior intimation, for two days in a week or on the weekends. The non-custodian pooch parent would have “visitation rights at convenient times with prior intimation”. Travels outside the city can be longer than a month. Any travel plan of a week or more will need to be flagged by a two-week advance notice, and neither can stray away into a shorter travel without a two-day notice either.
With the six-month cooling period over during the lockdown, the couple, separated since December 2018, had their court date on Friday, ahead of Independence Day. It was their last counselling to mark their plea as mutual. They also interacted with a family court judge in a virtual court proceeding. Their lawyers, Amarjeet Prasad and Payal Shethia, said it was a unique example of “a family treating every member humanely and separating with peace”.
The last celebrity battle for custody of a pet dog was during the Adnan Sami-Sabah Galadari divorce fight in 2009-10.
Lawyers said that they do get queries on how to handle custody of their pets along with their children, but even veteran lawyers like Mrunalini Deshmukh said the last time she had a ‘settlement’ done on pet dogs in a divorce case was a decade ago. “As consent terms go, it is not very common to have a detailed joint parenting schedule drawn up for pets, but with more families having pets I do get queries in client conferences on how to implement custody and access of children and pet dogs and whether any breach would attract contempt,” said Deshmukh.
Advocate Anagha Nimbkar said she had one case where there was no detailed plan. “It was a divorce by mutual consent, but there was no actual parental plan as full custody of a five-year-old German Shepherd was given to one parent, with medical expenses to be shared.” And last year she had a case where one parent had got custody of two dogs as the other estranged parent claimed no rights.
Former president of the bar Sajan Oommen said that last year they had a case where a couple decided who their pet cat would stay with after separation. “It will be the future of matrimonial litigation soon,” he said.