If you and your spouse are in the middle of a divorce, you may be surprised to learn just how hotly contested some issues can be, particularly those that involve children. While the effect of divorce on minor children has it's own separate place in a divorce, many couples also have pets. When both "pet parents" want custody, it can get just as ugly as a child custody battle. To learn more about how family law views pets in a divorce situation, read on.
Not really a custody issue: No matter how much you love and care for your pet, the law sees pets as property. This not only means that the issue pales in comparison to any child custody matters, but that it gets lumped in with all the other property at stake. It may seem wrong that your home, vehicles, bank accounts, and other inanimate objects are in the same category as your pet, but when laws were created, many people did view animals as property, in some cases very valuable property.
Take it out of the judge's hands: For this matter, and any other matter that you and your spouse cannot come to an agreement on, you will have to plead your case in court and let the judge decide. This not only presents an opportunity for more stress for everyone, but it just adds to the cost of an already expensive legal action. If you and your spouse can work out your custody and visitation schedule for your pet on your own, so much the better. While your agreement may not actually find its way into your divorce decree, depending on how your state handles such issues, it may still help define plans for who gets to keep fluffy and when they get to keep her.
If you cannot come to an agreement: The judge will make a decision based on which party has been doing the most for the pet in the past. You can expect the judge to ask:
- Who bought or procured the pet?
- Who did the majority of daily pet-related chores, such as walking, feeding, grooming, playing, etc.
- Who ensured the pet had veterinary care?
- Is there a minor child that is attached to the pet? Who will have physical custody of this child?
The judge will also evaluate the potential living situation for the pet.
- Who can provide the most optimum environment for the pet? For example, the pet parent that is able to provide an outdoor space for the pet may have a leg up.
- Do the parties live close enough to each other to share ownership? Do they get along well enough to share care and pet related expenses?
Speak with your divorce attorney, such as those at Nelson, McPherson Summers & Santos LC, for more information.