There are several important assets to deal with after a divorce: The house, the car, furniture and other pieces of property. Usually, a couple will divide this property by work privately with an attorney or going to trial to receive a divorce decree. Recently, one other important asset has been popping up in property division cases—the family pet.
Pet custody disputes are becoming increasingly common in divorce. Pets are not exactly considered property, but they are also not considered children. This has made for some new—and complicated—legal issues.
Property division and pets
The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers recently surveyed its members about the frequency of pet custody issues in a divorce. According to the results, the past several years has seen a dramatic increase in pet custody cases. By far, dogs are the most disputed pet, followed by cats and horses.
Animal custody can be particularly contentious because pet-owners have a close emotional bond with their furry friends. It is possible to be emotionally attached to a piece of inanimate property, but not to the same degree as an animal companion.
Deciding pet custody
Courts consider several factors when granting custody of a pet. In the past, most courts treated animals like property. Today, many courts treat pets similarly to children. When deciding who keeps the pet, a judge will consider which spouse is the pet’s legal owner, whether each spouse can afford to care for the animal and which spouse primarily cared for it. Some judges will even consider the strength of the animal’s bond with each human.
Courts’ attitudes toward animals varies widely by jurisdiction. Some courts will simply give the animal to whichever spouse is the legal owner. It is wise for divorcing couples to know how their jurisdiction deals with animals in divorce cases, and to understand their legal options. In some situations, it may be better for a couple to negotiate pet custody privately. In others, it may be necessary to proceed to trial.