Who gets me?As a pet owner himself, Charles Regal knows that animals are much more than the property they are treated as in divorce court. That is why - armed with a master's degree in social work and mediation training certification - he began a specialized practice in pet custody mediation, where separating couples can pursue mutually satisfactory custody agreements for their dog, cat, bird or small animal.
Choosing a mediator over a lawyer
In addition to potentially astronomical legal fees and long waiting period a former couple could face by going to court to determine custody of a shared pet, the U.S. legal system treats animals no differently than a piece of furniture. According to StraightDivorce.com, such a determination is made after examining receipts indicating which partner had been the functional owner of the pet, by way of expenses for medical treatments, training, nutrition and grooming. Regal, on the other hand, does not produce a legally binding arrangement, but facilitates an agreement between the people in question, who are unable to arrive at one on their own.
"One that sticks out in my memory is a parting couple who was so resentful toward each other, I didn't think they'd stay in the same room together for very long," recalls Regal. "Their whole demeanor changed when one of them mentioned their dog [was] acting lethargic and not having a good appetite lately. When asked if it was possible that the tension from their separation was affecting the dog, they both said they believed it was and wanted to do whatever was possible to help their dog through this transition. They were considerate to each other and listened respectfully to each others' suggestions. Their love for their dog enabled them to rise above their negative feelings and create a plan that both were satisfied with."
Who they are
There's no clear-cut path to becoming a mediator. While some private organizations provide mediation training and offer what they designate as certification, no state has enacted laws regulating the private practice of mediation or established state-wide requirements for mediators as they do for other professions. Arguably, the best mediators are compassionate yet fair, with a history of thoughtful conflict resolution.
How it works
Getting the facts: In Regal's case, he begins by talking to each person privately and confidentially, usually by phone. "Aside from getting all the pertinent information, I give each person a chance to vent their feelings about the situation they are going through."
- Establishing ground rules: "I let people know what kind of process I have, and what kind of process it is not," Regal said. "I want them to know they are not visiting me to prove a case or have me referee a fight. My focus is not on who is right or wrong, but on deeper understanding on how each person is experiencing the situation - without any judgment." The goal is to get separating pet owners to work as a team to do what is best for their pets, and themselves."
- Leave the pet at home: "I don't like the pet to be present at the mediation because it would be too stressful for them. But I do ask for a photograph of the pet to be present to help us re-focus our attention if we get distracted."
- Put the choice in their hands: "I make sure that any solution that comes from the meeting totally belongs to them," concludes Regal. "Mutually acceptable resolutions resulting from the peoples' own ideas and desires are far more viable and solid than ones that are imposed or coerced."
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