Who Gets Pet Custody In A Divorce?

Divorce can bring all sorts of contentious issues to the forefront and many of them are contentious just because of the way they affect emotions. While taking a logical and dry approach to things like child custody, visitation, debts, and property is to be commended, it may not always be possible to do so. When it comes to pets in a divorce situation things can get heated and maybe even get more difficult to deal with than that of children. Read on to learn more.

Laws don't cover pets in the way you might think

While people have always had pets, the laws that address animals focus on the property aspects. In times past, animals were valued for milk, meat, and gaming and sport, among other uses. There are still many families and businesses that count animals among their pieces of property and the law still sees things that way too. Your pet is considered marital property and is considered alongside of your home, cars, and other assets, at least as far as marital law is concerned, just like another piece of property. It should be noted that almost laws that have dominion over animals treat them as property, including estate law.

Agree ahead of time

It's better to agree outside of court, just like all matters pertaining to divorce. Leaving it to the judge to decide will sometimes mean that the ownership of the pet gets split 50/50 if the couple lives near each other and both have a right to own it. The judge will consider several factors to find out whether or not one party is more the owner than the other and it has a lot to do with who has been doing most of the care up to now. For example:

  • Who bought or arranged to take ownership of the pet?
  • Was the pet a gift to a specific party?
  • Who did most of the day-to-day chores associated with the pet like feeding, walking, litter box maintenance, cleaning up after, etc.?
  • Who was responsible for taking the pet to the vet, to the groomer, etc.?
  • Who will have custody of any minor child who is attached to the pet?
  • Who has the best living situation for the pet going forward? Is there a fenced yard, cat door, doggy park nearby?

This issue can take on a lot of importance and it pays to think about it ahead of time. Never leave a pet with the other spouse when you separate and don't allow your pet to become a pawn in the divorce give-and-take. Speak to a divorce attorney to learn more.