Dealing With Pet Custody And Divorce

It's no surprise that custody issues are among the most contentious in a divorce situation, but problems with who gets the family pet have become increasingly common. While you and your partner may think of your "fur baby" like a member of the family, the law views this issue quite differently. If you have a beloved pet in your life, and a divorce is imminent, you may want to read up on how "pet custody" is decided.

Property Division

The law has strict guidelines on how divorces are litigated, and take very seriously the fate of minor children when it comes to deciding custody, visitation and child support. Unfortunately, a pet falls into the property category and not the custody category — no matter how much you love your pet. The property category contains everything you as a married couple own: the family home, other real estate, cars, furniture, art, bank accounts, etc. In some instances, the family court judge may consider a special pet provision in a divorce agreement, but not necessarily; such provisions are at the discretion of the the local judge.

Decide for Yourselves

Once you know that pets are considered property, you should use that knowledge to try to come to an agreement outside of court. You should realize that since divorce law automatically assigns a "property" designation to the family pet, the courts may not be well-equipped to handle any disputes that arise when both parties want the pet. While provisions that apply to your pet are likely not enforceable in court, it may still prove to be helpful for you and your partner to agree on issues like who will have primary custody, who can visit and spend time with the pet and when.

If You Cannot Decide

If left up to the courts, the judge will use several factors to help in the decision-making process, such as:

  1. Who bought the pet?
  2. Was the pet a gift to one party?
  3. Who was the pet's primary care-giver? For example, who took the pet to the vet or for walks, hauled home the pet food, etc.?
  4. Who is best suited to have primary ownership of the pet? The judge may look at the living environment and work schedules to determine the answer.
  5. Is there a minor child who is attached to the pet? The parent who gets primary physical custody of the minor child may also get the pet.
  6. Can the parents get along well enough, and do they live close enough to each other to allow for a 50/50 ownership plan?

For more information about how to handle "pet custody" in your divorce, contact a divorce attorney.