When it comes to custody issues, it's no surprise that these can be some of the most contentious of issues that a divorcing couple has to face. Since many people consider their pets to be as beloved as their children, is it any wonder that "who gets Fido" can quickly escalate divorce battles to a breaking point? If you and your spouse are parting ways and you have a fur-baby in your life, read on to learn more about how the custody of your pet is decided on when it comes to divorce.
Pets as Property
It may be difficult for pet-lovers to grasp, but the law considers pets to be property, just like your family silver and the Prius. This means that who gets the pet after a divorce depends on some unique circumstances, such as who the pet really belongs to. The state you live in may affect ownership as well, with couples divorcing in a community property state having 50% ownership of the pet and those that divorce in an equitable distribution state having the ownership decided based on other factors. Regardless of where you live, you may be able to include some specific provisions for sharing your pet if you and your spouse can come to an agreement on it. For example, you may alternate weeks and split the costs of care and feeding of the animal.
If You Cannot Come to an Agreement
When it comes to disagreements over property, such as a pet or other property, the judge will first apply community or equitable distribution laws. That being said, pets cannot just be divided like other property and family law courts recognize that treating them exactly like inanimate objects does not typically serve justice.
The judge will take into consideration some of the following factors:
- Which party purchased the pet.
- Whether or not the pet was a gift from one party to another.
- Whether or not a minor child is attached to the pet. Since the courts place a great deal of emphasis on the best interest of the child, this issue can often swing the pendulum toward the custodial parent.
- Which party was the primary caretaker of the pet. Who walked the dog? Who took Fluffy to the vet? Who hauled home gigantic bags of dog food?
- Which party can provide the best living environment for the animal. For example, one party may have a fenced yard or a nice dog park nearby, while one party lives in a tiny apartment.
- Would a shared ownership plan work out? Both pet parents would need to live near each other to make this work.
Speak to your attorney, like those at Campbell, Dille, Barnett & Smith, P.L.L.C., for more information.