When a couple breaks up or divorces, the dispute over who gets the pet often escalates into a legal battle. A seasoned family law attorney can help ensure you have the best chance of keeping your dog or cat.
Pets are not treated as people under the law and are instead property subject to division like any other asset. However, recent legislation has made courts more willing to award custody of pets.
Animals are property
Animals have long been viewed, in law, as property. This is especially true when it comes to divorce. For decades, courts have ruled that pets are nothing more than chattel to be divided amongst divorcing spouses like a sofa or bank account.
While the legal community is making progress in changing this view of animals, many judges still do not fully recognize that pets form emotional ties with their owners that do not have a price tag. As such, when a couple splits up and one party wants custody of the pet, they can expect to face an uphill battle.
Many people use written dog custody agreements or pet prenups to settle ownership disputes regarding divorce. However, there are better solutions than this. While judges will generally honor a written agreement, they are not compelled to do so.
For this reason, it is important to have evidence that demonstrates your claim to the animal. This could include proof that you adopted the pet or purchased it. It would also be helpful to have testimony from friends and neighbors who can confirm your consistent interaction with the pet. For example, if you regularly walk the pet or take it to the park, these witnesses may be able to testify in your favor that you are the primary caregiver and thus deserve custody of the pet.
They are family members.
Many people treat their pets as family members. This can lead to conflict and heartache when a divorce occurs. Unfortunately, the dog custody laws don’t always recognize this special bond. Courts have traditionally treated pets as property, subject to division in a divorce, like a car or piece of furniture.
A new law is changing this. It requires courts to consider the best interests of a pet when making custody decisions. This is a huge step forward for pet owners, who are finally recognized as true family members.
Courts can look at a variety of factors when deciding where a pet should live, including each spouse’s work schedule, available time to spend with the animal, the ability to care for the animal (whether it be a yard for a dog, a fenced in back garden for a rabbit, carpeted floors for an older cat, or the presence of poisonous houseplants that a curious kitty could nibble on) and the ability to communicate with each other about the pet’s needs.
If you’re considering divorce, contact a qualified family lawyer. They can help you with all aspects of your divorce, including property division, custody and visitation, and support matters. They can also help you draw up a pet prenup or create a post-separation agreement that protects your rights and the welfare of your pet.
Until recently, when it came to deciding who would keep the family pet, sentimentality had little to do with it. As property, pets were divided up in a divorce like a couch or a car. But now, some judges are starting to realize that our furry friends deserve better than a life of being treated the same way as a piece of furniture.
For example, suppose that one spouse owned the dog before marriage and is moving to a house with a large yard where the dog can enjoy more outdoor exercise. Moreover, this spouse can walk the dog and give it the attention it needs during the day. Given these facts, most Judges will award full ownership of the dog to that spouse.
However, suppose the animal was acquired during the marriage and was not owned by either spouse before the wedding. In that case, the Judge will probably consider whether it is in the best interests of both parties to allow them to share custody. This means that the Judge will look at things such as whether the spouses have shared responsibilities, who has the financial resources to care for the pet, and who spent more time caring for the pet during the marriage.
In addition, some couples are avoiding court-ordered custody arrangements by working out their agreements as prenuptial or settlement agreements. This can turn the agreement into a legally binding contract that is enforceable by a Judge by state laws.
They are subject to the best interests of the pet standard.
Unlike many other assets in a divorce, pets cannot be given solely to one party. However, courts have begun to view pets as more than property and are increasingly willing to consider who can most care for them. They may think about who the animal spends the most time with, who meets their daily needs, and if living arrangements are pet-friendly. They may even award shared custody, visitation rights, and alimony-like payments between spouses.
While these developments are encouraging, they do not apply to every case yet. Pet owners need a lawyer who understands the importance of their relationship with their pets and how these relationships will impact their divorce.
Even if your state does not have a pet custody law, you can still prove that you are the primary owner of your pet by showing adoption or purchase records, pet medical records, and proof that your name is on the animal’s registration paperwork. This may help the court award you custody, even if state law does not require it. However, working alongside a family lawyer who can navigate these issues with the best results for your pet is a good idea.