10 Most Bizarre Custody Cases Involving Pets


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Divorce or separation can be an extraordinarily stressful experience – especially for couples with dependents. However, increasingly, those dependents include not only the kids but the family pets as well. It might seem odd but many Americans care for their furry friends as they would for their own children, so when love turns sour the tug of war extends not just to the Ford but also to the family pooches. Indeed, when everything is at stake, the custody of pets can turn agreements into acrimony. There’s even a book on the subject: We Can’t Stay Together for the Dogs. Here are 10 of the most bizarre custody cases fought over family pets.

10. Tequila the Parrot


Image: Joao Maximo

Tequila the African gray parrot was lucky enough to be a much loved bird – so much so that Tequila’s second owner named him Lucky. However, Tequila was originally owned by Angela Colicheski of Boca Raton, FL; the bird managed to escape, and was eventually taken in by Sarita Lytell. By chance, 3 years later, Colicheski and Lytell met at a Dunkin’ Donuts, and got to talking about their shared love of parrots, before realizing that they had at different times actually owned the same bird. At this point Colicheski asked Lytell to return him and when she refused, Colicheski sued. Lucky no more, Tequila was returned to Colicheski three months later and Lytell’s claim for the cost of keeping the bird was dismissed.

9. ‘Pepperoni’ the Border Collie


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Custody battles aren’t always fought between husband and wife; sometimes the pooch’s godparents get involved as well. British lawyer Sandra Toye told The Independent about a case where a breeder had given ‘Pepperoni’, a border collie, to a friend, with no money or paperwork changing hands. When the friend split from her husband the breeder snatched ‘Pepperoni’ back, claiming that the dog was her property. More than 11 months and £20,000 ($30,000) later, the breeder gave in and returned the hound. The client commented: “I know it was financially dumb but my mindset all along was, ‘We’re not going to let them win’.”

8. Poppy the Staffordshire Bull Terrier


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Take reality TV stars and add litigation and pets and you have the perfect recipe for a media circus. Brits Melanie Hill, of the first series of Big Brother in the UK, and Alex Sibley, who appeared in the third series, fell out big time over their pet Staffordshire bull terrier, Poppy – to the tune of a 13-month battle, costing £25,000 ($40,000). When the pair split at the end of a 2-year relationship, Melanie kept the pup, bought for £70 ($100) from Battersea Dogs Home, while Alex was arrested for harassment (for which he was later cleared). A judge eventually awarded the pair shared custody and called for Melanie to pay 80% of Alex’s costs as well as her own – while warning that the dog might be affected by the tension. Alex told the BBC: “She is a dog in a million… She is absolutely the best dog in the world.”

7. Lucy the Lamb


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Not all custody battles are fought over pampered hounds; one Bethan Parkinson actually fought for, and eventually lost, custody of a sheep. Bethan bought Lucy the lamb as a pet for her daughter while living in Buckley, in the UK. However, she soon found that with four dogs, three cats and two ponies she had no room for Lucy, so she asked the manager of an animal rescue center if they could care for the animal. Five months later, having moved to North Wales, Bethan attempted to get the sheep back. The rescue center refused, so Bethan called the police. When four officers arrived she displayed a receipt for the sheep, for £30 ($45), and Lucy was returned. The rescue center then took legal action and won – saying Bethan had changed her mind after leaving Lucy with them.

6. Bailey the Staffordshire-Labrador cross


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When British model Orla O’Rourke split from her boyfriend, male model Tim, he decided that their dog, Bailey, was his. Following an amicable private settlement, Orla took to making a two hour round trip from central London to Romford, Essex once a fortnight – an arrangement that lasted for more than 4 years. However, this wasn’t the first time that Orla had made the effort to keep in touch with separated pets. After breaking up with a boyfriend in the US, Orla flew transatlantic once every six weeks in order to spend a full week with the dogs the couple had shared. The ex would apparently sometimes try to stop her from seeing the dogs – so she waited until he was out and crept through the dog door. “There’s always a lot of strife around it,” she told the Daily Mail. “You see the worst of some people. It’s so easy to use the dog against your partner.”

5. Zena the Poodle


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When Zena the poodle’s owners John and Lisa Roberts parted ways they couldn’t decide who would claim the then 5-year-old dog. After a one hour hearing, John was given Zena on weekdays and Lisa given her on weekends. Adding hyperbole to the proceedings, John’s attorney Joe Duncan commented: “It’s like what a Solomon decision might do. The parties just felt so strongly about this issue that it was very difficult for them to give in, and that’s what judges are for.” Fortunately no one suggested cutting Zena in half – though we hope neither party would have accepted the offer.

4. Gigi the Pointer-Greyhound cross


Image: Philandthehounds

By now you might have got the message that when people fight over pets, they fight hard. When Dr Stanley Perkins parted ways with his wife Linda in 2000 they set a precedent for determination. In all the couple were reported to have spent $150,000 fighting over their pointer-greyhound cross-breed, Gigi, which they had adopted from an animal shelter. During a three day hearing, reports by animal behaviorists, bonding studies and a video on Gigi’s routine were all scrutinized. Linda even presented a birthday card from Gigi recognizing her as the dog’s ‘mommy’. She ultimately won custody.

3. Jakob the Horse


Image: Bjørn Bulthuis

When parish councilor Anthony Ewen took Jakob the horse from his field, in the UK, it started a very peculiar chain of events. Anthony claimed that the horse, which had been bought while he was married to his ex-wife Chrissie McBurnie, would be happier and safer in another field, with other animals. The following night Chrissie and her friend Tracey Young held a silent protest at a parish council meeting with a poster of the horse. The police were called and four officers removed the pair from the meeting. Chrissie, who claims Anthony does not know the horse’s name, as he calls him Thunder, said: “He is doing this to hurt me. Jakob has hardly any cash value – you can buy ponies at auction for £50 ($75) these days. He might be worth £300 ($450) to the meat man but that is it.” It was alleged that she punched Anthony in the face two days later.

2. Trouble the Maltese


Image: *Ann Gordon

When ‘Queen of Mean’ Leona Helmsley died she left the largest bequest in her will, of $12m, to her Maltese, Trouble. A year later the dog’s trust fund was slashed to a mere $2m, with an annual expenditure of $100,000 to cover security, $8,000 on grooming and $1,200 for food. Carl Lekic, the general manager of the Helmsley Sandcastle Hotel, serves as a guardian for the spoiled pooch, on a salary of $60,000 a year. Mr Lekic might just be one rather lucky custodian.

1. Rocky the Golden Labrador


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When New York businessman Marsh Newmark’s wife, opera singer Darynn Zimmer, left with the dog, things did not go well. Initially the couple shared Rocky the golden labrador, but, according to the New York Daily News, one day Darynn had a dog walker announce that Rocky would not be being returned and then accused Marsh of abusing the dog. The golden lab got a clean bill of health from a vet, but Darynn then announced she was moving to Connecticut. Distraught, Marsh asked a friend to apprehend Rocky while he was being walked. The friend was tackled by a doorman and the police were called, while the boyfriend reportedly shouted: “He’s stealing my dog!” It was then that the couple took Rocky to court – and after a $60,000 custody battle, Darynn retained custody.

Images used are for illustration only.

10 Celebrities You Didn’t Know Were Adopted


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Giving up your child for adoption can be a difficult decision to make, but it happens more often than you might think. For some it has taken decades to discover the shocking truth that the people who raised them are not their biological parents – and for one reason or another that their biological parents felt they could not raise them. Here are 10 celebrities who you might never have guessed were adopted – and who haven’t been held back by adoption. Read more

10 Celebrities Who Divorced Their Parents

While we might all have spent some time in our childhood wondering if we could be legally separated from our parents, it’s actually a pretty unusual thing to do – and with good reason. If a petition of emancipation is approved, the child takes on adult responsibilities in the eyes of the law (though that doesn’t mean they can drink or drive) and they must prove that they can support themselves. Yet whether it’s to take on adult responsibilities or to part from an unstable home, it’s a drastic decision to make. However, more celebrities than you might think have been granted ‘divorces’ from their parents when there are child and parenting issues affecting primarily the child. Here are 10 famous kids who divorced their parents:

10. Juliette Lewis

Wild child Juliette Lewis was emancipated from her parents at the age of 14, before moving in with family friend Karen Black and then into her own apartment. She then bought a car without a valid license, dropped out of high school and got into drugs. Then she appeared in The Wonder Years. She also dated Michael Dewitt, who worked as a nanny for Kurt Cobain … and Courtney Love.

9. Drew Barrymore

Another wild one, Drew was smoking at the age of 9, drinking at 11 and taking cocaine at 13. A regular at Studio 54, she was in rehab at 13 and attempted suicide when she was 14. Then she moved in with singer David Crosby, sobered up and a year later filed for emancipation – and has never relapsed since.

8. Courtney Love

Courtney Michelle Harrison certainly had a complicated upbringing, shooting from a hippie commune in Oregon to New Zealand and from boarding school to reform school. Following childhood highlights such as unsuccessfully shoplifting a Kiss t-shirt and applying for the Mickey Mouse Club with a reading of a Sylvia Plath poem, Love applied for and was granted emancipation from her mother, who was living on the other side of the world, at the age of 16. She went on to travel around the US, England and Ireland, living on a trust fund set up by her mother’s adoptive parents.

7. Frances Bean Cobain

However, that was only the beginning of the Courtney Love story. In 1992 she had a child with her husband Kurt Cobain of Nirvana, who, in 1994, killed himself. Some years later, at the age of 17, Frances Bean was put into the custody of her maternal grandmother and her father’s sister. A restraining order was then put on Love forbidding her from any contact with her daughter.

6. Eliza Dushku

Dushku came from a happy home, completed high school and went to university. Why did the Albanian-Danish Mormon divorce her parents then? As a 17-year-old she filed for a petition to get around child labor restrictions, allowing her to spend more time on set filming for her role as Faith in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

5. Bijou Phillips

At 15, Bijou Phillips left a home, where her father (John Phillips of The Mamas & Papas) and her sister were allegedly both taking cocaine, to live alone in a Fifth Avenue apartment with her own maid, while working as a model. Two years later, after becoming distraught over the heroin overdose death of her friend, 20-year-old socialite Davide Sorrenti, she went into rehab.

4. Aaron Carter

At the age of 16, Carter filed for emancipation from his mother, alleging she had taken $100,000 from his bank account without his permission. “I feel betrayed by my own mother,” he said, according to the Hollywood Reporter. He later withdrew the petition and the pair reconciled.

3. Dominique Moceanu

Only 14 years old, Dominique Moceanu was the youngest member of the US women’s gymnastics team in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Three years later she sued her parents to find out what had happened to her money. The following month, her former coach skipped town after reports that Moceanu’s father, Dumitru, had hired a hit man to kill him. Dumitru later denied the allegations, but took the Fifth. Despite being emancipated, Dominique eventually reconciled with her parents.

2. Jaime Pressly

Jaime Pressly was another teen with a strong work ethic – she was granted emancipation at the age of 15 so she could take a semester out of school and accept a modeling job in Japan. Due to child labor laws she was required to travel with a legal guardian, but neither of her parents could attend, so adult status was essential. Coincidentally, however, her parents, who had been married for 21 years, were divorcing at the time – but as she says, “It wasn’t a Macaulay Culkin kind of thing…”

1. Macaulay Culkin

Beginning in Macaulay’s 14th year, his parents, who had never married, separated and began to fight over their (very successful) children – and $17m of little Mac’s money. His mother, Patricia Brentrup, subsequently won custody, and at 16 he took his parents to court to gain control of his earnings, eventually paying off Patricia’s legal debts and parting ways with his father. He would later divorce his wife of 2 years in 2000, at the age of 19.

Divorce Documents

When filing for divorce in New Jersey, certain documents must be filed. First, a “complaint for divorce” is filed, which gives basic information about the marriage, including where it was held, if there are any children to be considered, and the grounds for divorce. Along with the complaint for divorce, a “confidential litigation information sheet” must also be filed. This sheet contains detailed information about each spouse, including their social security number, overall health, place and date of birth, and the names and ages of all the children. Each spouse, after submitting all necessary information and documents must sign a “CDR” certification, which just notes for the court that each party has been made aware of the lower-cost, alternative dispute resolution.

Response documents are also among the first filed by the defendant. An “appearance” is filed once the defendant receives the complaint, an “answer,” either confirms or denies the grounds for divorce, and the optional “counterclaim,” allows the defendant to file based on other grounds not originally mentioned by the plaintiff (this isn’t always necessary, but your attorney will be able to answer any questions you may have about the process).

All documents filed will become a matter of public record after the divorce process begins…many parents keep this in mind when describing how they feel about their spouse, and the reasons for the divorce. Children will be able to access the information years from now.

Discovery Process

After initial documents are filed, the divorce will be given a case number, and each spouse’s attorney will be given a specific amount of time to conduct what the court calls the “discovery” period. Every divorce is different, and depending on whether a custody hearing will be held, the discovery period could be longer or shorter.

The New Jersey courts try their best to keep divorces from lasting much over a year’s time. However, when there is much to dispute or a lot of discovery is necessary (if there was a business shared, or if there are many assets or debts to be divided, for example), it is not uncommon for a divorce to last longer than a year. Which is why its best to be as cooperative as possible; its in everyone’s best interest to have the proceedings not last longer than they need to.

A “case information statement” is provided by each spouse, which details the status of his or her financials. The household budget, projected financial needs of dependents, bank account information, property values, income (current and projected), and all bills and debts (totaled), will be have to be given over to your attorneys. This information will help determine income needed to cover both spouses’ projected expenses, and help determine if there will be a shortage once “real income” is applied.

There are cases when a party isn’t totally aware of the financial details of their household because their spouse typically handled all the financial decisions. In this scenario discovery tools are used to make sure both parties have all the information necessary.

If your divorce requires more discovery than is typical, you may choose to have your spouse or other individuals deposed (give their sworn statement) as to the status of financials. There are also divorces where discovery ventures beyond the case information document, and property appraisals, evaluations by psychologists, etc must be acquired.

Equitable Distribution

As with other steps in the divorce process, how the marital assets will be divided cannot be decided until all financial information is gathered and all questions answered. Information about income (current and potential), tax returns, current values of the property, needs of the care-giving parent to maintain the primary marital home, etc, must all be shared with the courts.

Equitable distribution also involves discussing the financial contributions of each spouse throughout the course of their marriage. How much each spouse contributed to the other’s education, or even what career sacrifices—which led to earning sacrifices—were made by one spouse for the other, or at least as a result of the other spouse’s career/education (for example, if one spouse stayed home with the children, thereby not pursuing career advancement, so the other spouse could attend school or work more hours)… all are taken into account.

Early Settlement Panel

After the discovery period is completed, you have the opportunity to go before the “early settlement panel.” This panel is made up of three extremely experienced marital attorneys who will hear both parties’ positions and advise each spouse’s attorney based on, in their opinion, what they think a judge’s ruling will be on the case.

Before appearing before the panel, you and your spouse exchange settlement proposals which give both parties and their attorneys an idea of their spouse’s suggestions on how to resolve issues surrounding child custody, dividing of the assets, etc. There should be no surprises at the early settlement panel hearing; both attorneys present their client’s settlement proposals and then the panel gives their opinion—which is non-binding, but highly recommended.

If you and your spouse can come to an agreement at the early settlement panel you can be divorced that very day, saving time, money, and more emotional strain. If you decide not take the panel’s advice and settle that day, while the process could go on for several more months, you will at least have a better idea of where you and your spouse stand on the important issues, and how much more negotiating you will have to undergo. Communication is always a good thing.