Month: August 2020

During divorce, there are many things up in the air; property, child custody, new living arrangements, but one thing has become a contentious issue in divorce proceedings is pets. When looking at the role of pets during a divorce, DC and Maryland law both treat pets as property. Due to this characteristic, many courts and lawyers believe that it is best to settle the pet custody on your own or through your personal attorneys. It is normal for many to come to an agreement about their pet outside of court, since very rarely does a case pertaining to pet custody actually go up in front of a judge.

Pet custodySome factors to be considered are: will there be shared custody or some sort of visitation schedule, who will be paying bills pertaining to the pet, and who gets to make important health decisions for the pet. When answering these questions lawyers believe that it is the most important to consider what is in the best interest of your pet, rather than solely focusing on your spouse. It has been proven that the stress of separation can also be felt by your pet, so it is best to maintain a similar daily routine to what your cat or dog has currently. It is also vital to consider who can take best care of your pet by looking at things like who has a better schedule to take care of the dog and take them on walks. Looking at who your pet is better bonded with is worth considering. Oftentimes, one spouse had full ownership of the pet before marriage, the animal is kept with them after divorce.

Lawyers often encourage clients to keep their pets with their children. During a  divorce in D.C., the pet can be of comfort for your children during these trying times. Some also believe that it is best for the pet to stay with whoever gets the home.

Avoiding Future Difficulties

There are many ways to avoid pet custody issues in the future. Lawyers recommend starting a paper trail, by putting everything in relation to your pet in your name from the bills to the pet’s registration papers. You can avoid any questions of who will get the pet in the future since according to the law you are the owner of the animal. It is also recommended to include a pet in a prenuptial agreement if possible to avoid any arguments in the future.

Divorce proceedings are often very emotionally charged as many consider pets to be part of the family, which makes proceedings even more difficult. It is understandable as we view our pets as our children. The best way to settle a dispute over pet custody is by having a candid conversation with your divorce attorney.

Contact Our Attorneys Today

If you have questions about your options during this time, reach out to Bruckheim & Patel to speak with attorney Sweta Patel or Kelsey Penna regarding a consultation about your DC or Maryland divorce or custody issues at 202-930-3464.

In the District of Columbia, when a person petitions the court for a Civil Protection Order it is the petitioner’s burden to prove that an intrafamily offense occurred. An intrafamily offense means the offender needs to have committed or threatened to commit a crime against a person he shares a relationship with by marriage, blood, a child in common, legal custody, shared residence, or a romantic/dating relationship. Because Civil Protection Orders are unique in that they mix both criminal law and civil litigation, there are specific rules that regulate these matters under the Domestic Violence Division at D.C. Superior Court.

Civil Cases with Criminal Implications

Discovery Rights

Unlike a criminal case, automatic discovery rules do not apply when a Civil Protection Order is initiated. Rule 8 of the Domestic Violence Division Rules governs discovery practice. If either party wishes to receive discovery prior to the hearing, the party must motion the court and state whether there is a pending criminal case involving the same facts alleged in the Civil Protection Order case and attach proposed interrogatories, requests for production, or requests for admission. This motion must be filed not later than 7 days after the respondent was served with the petition. Even if a party requests discovery, there is no guarantee the court will grant the request if good cause has not been shown and with regard to the nature of the proceedings.

5th Amendment Protections

In some cases, a criminal case rising out of the same facts may be pending simultaneously with a Civil Protection Order case. If the respondent is a defendant in the criminal case, he may believe he can invoke his 5th Amendment right to protect himself against self-incrimination by not testifying and delaying the civil protection hearing until after the criminal case is complete. However, Rule 12(b)(4) of the Domestic Violence Rules prohibits the respondent’s testimony during a civil protection hearing be used against him and is inadmissible as evidence in a delinquency proceeding or criminal trial. The only exception to the rule is his testimony can be used in a prosecution for perjury or false statement. Since this rule exists, it is unlikely a judge will delay the Civil Protection Order hearing until after a criminal case based on a 5th amendment claim.

Reasonable Doubt v. Preponderance of Evidence Standard

Though the judge in a Civil Protection Order hearing needs to find that the respondent committed or threatened to commit a criminal offense against a petitioner, the level of proof required is much lower than what is necessary in a criminal case. As most people know, the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant committed a crime in order for the person to be found guilty. In a Civil Protection Order case, the judge only needs to find that there is good cause to believe the respondent committed the offense. This standard is known as the preponderance of evidence which can be defined as it was “more likely than not” or “more than a 50% chance” that the offense occurred.

Motions to Reconsider and Appeal Rights

If a party disagrees with the court’s findings after a Civil Protection Order hearing, he can motion the court to reconsider its ruling. Rule 7(j) details the following grounds for this motion:

  • The court’s failure to consider a material fact or applicable law;
  • Newly discovered evidence that, with reasonable diligence, could not have been discovered prior to the court’s ruling, order, or judgment;
  • A change of law not previously brought to the court’s attention;
  • The absence of a stated reason for the court’s order;
  • Fraud, misrepresentation, or other misconduct by the opposing party;
  • Mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect; or
  • Any other reason that justifies relief.

A motion to reconsider must be filed no later than 28 days after entry of the order. If a party’s motion to reconsider is denied, he then could file a notice of appeal with the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. This notice must be filed within 30 days from the denial of the motion to reconsider. However, a party is not required to file a motion to reconsider with the court prior to filing a notice of appeal. After the Civil Protection Order is issued, a party can appeal this order by filing a notice of appeal within 30 days with the Court of Appeals. It is important to note that filing a motion to reconsider or a notice of appeal does not change or suspend the Civil Protection Order while the motion and appeal are pending.

If you are interested in petitioning for a Civil Protection Order or someone has filed a Civil Protective Order against you, contact Bruckheim & Patel to speak with one of their expert attorneys in domestic violence for a free, confidential consultation.

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