Child custody arrangements are often major issues in a divorce, but the disposition of pets are becoming increasingly common issues in divorce court as well. Many people think of their fur babies as children, so it's no surprise that who gets custody of the beloved family pet is so hotly contested. If you have a divorce in your future, read on for more information about how pet custody issues are decided.
Pets are considered property when it comes to legal matters.
The law does not view your pet as your children, and most states make no provision for pets except as marital property, just like the family silver or a car. You may be able to include a provision for visitation in your separation and divorce agreement, but there is no legal basis for such provisions and the approval and enforcement of it would be at the discretion of the presiding judge.
Preempt problems with a prenuptial agreement.
For couples who are still in the engaged-to-be-married process, a prenuptial agreement created and filed before you wed could forestall many issues, including the disposition of the family pet. Since prenuptial agreements are relatively flexible when it comes to customizing your own plan, including provisions for your current pet as well as guidelines for when you acquire a new one as a couple is a snap with a prenup.
Create your own plan.
Since the courts are reluctant and ill-equipped to deal with pet issues, you and your spouse should attempt to set aside your differences and make a pet parenting plan of your own. While likely not legally enforceable, you may be able to set up some guidelines for custody, visitation and financial issues ahead of your impending divorce.
How is "custody" decided?
If you and your spouse cannot come to an agreement and the fate of your pet is left with the judge, the below factors may be taken into consideration by the judge in determining who gets the pet:
- Who was the pet's primary caregiver? Who did much of the bathing, walking, feeding, grooming and making the trips to the vet?
- Which of the "pet parents" are best equipped to be a primary caregiver and which one should have visitation privileges? Take into consideration the living environment and what's best for your pet since divorcing involves at least one party taking a new living space that may not allow pets or be in the best interest of your pet.
- What is the relationship between the couple? While the fact that a judge must decide who gets to keep the pet doesn't say a lot about the potential for a couple's future amicability, the judge may order that the "property" be shared 50/50. This is often the fairest solution when all other aspects are equal (ie: both parties are equally fit to hold ownership), so be prepared to work with your ex for the good of your beloved pet.
Contact a family law attorney for more information about how you can do what's best for your pet as you go through divorce. Visit http://www.glfamilylaw.com to learn more.