May 14, 2014

Who gets the family pet in divorce cases?

As the family dynamic changes as a result of divorce, clients are forced to make tough decisions that affect their families. Custody arrangements, division or sale of marital property, and who keeps the home. What many don’t consider until the end is what happens with the family pets. We consider pets to be family members, but the courts have a different opinion. Determining who gets the family pet in divorce can be difficult and when left to the courts, the pet is considered property.

How does the court view the family pet in divorce?

In short – family pets in divorce are treated like any other property. Even though we treat and love our pets like family members, the law considers a pet to be personal property. The courts are faced with fleshing out the familial structure for children after divorce; tasking our judicial system with arranging custody is just too unreasonable. If you and your family are breeding and selling animals, your pet could be considered a business asset. Especially where purebreds are concerned, there is an additional value that will be assessed.

If you and your spouse signed a prenuptial agreement, or are considering it prior to marriage, the pet can be a provision that ensures ownership after divorce. This is one way that the pet as property can be a benefit, as long as this is taken into consideration prior the marriage. There was another recent case in Vermont where the pet was at issue for a “custody” arrangement; unfortunately, the courts had to uphold the pets as property notion.

If your spouse is trying to use the pet as leverage, there are a few ways the court approaches making a determination in who gets the family pet in divorce cases.

1. First and foremost, the court asks who owned the pet prior to the marriage? Clearly this distinction simplifies the question when the pet was purchased by one spouse prior to marriage. The courts would be more likely to rely on that fact in making its decision on who gets the pet.

2. If that information is unclear or it was purchased/acquired during the marriage, the court may consider who cares for the pet. Costs of food, veterinarian bills, maintaining its daily needs are all factors. If this is just one spouse, there is certainly a better case for that spouse to retain the pet. To make a case for this, you can consult with the vet on getting an acknowledgement signed as to who brings the pet for check-ups; or have the neighbors attest to who does all the dog-walking. Saving receipts from the pet store and other proof of your involvement can help your attorney with the case.

3. The other concerns involve whether or not you have kids and if the pet really is a family pet. Where are the kids going to live and will it be better for them to have the pet after the divorce? If one spouse has primary custody, it may be best for the pet to stay with the children at that residence. However, if there is split custody and the children reside in two homes, you may consider working out a shared arrangement on your own. Doing this with a dog may be simpler than other pets.

4. Lifestyle may be another factor. If one owner has a job that requires long hours out of the house or traveling, the other spouse may be more capable of providing a good life. If you work from home, you may have the advantage over a spouse who spends little time at home.

If you and your spouse are battling it out over what happens the family pet in divorce, contact a Bucks County divorce attorney to handle your case. Dividing property during equitable distribution is difficult where inanimate objects are concerned – allow our attorneys to help you retain the pets you love and ensure they receive the best treatment possible. Call today to schedule a consultation with one of our divorce lawyers, at (215) 942-2100. Or submit an online inquiry form and a member of our team will contact you about setting up an appointment.