What Happens with Pets During a Divorce

petsGetting a divorce is never easy and even less so when children are involved. Deciding who gets custody rights, dividing property, and financial disputes are all common decisions that need to be made. However, what about some of the more uncommon choices? What happens if your “child” is a fur-baby? Who gets custody over the family dog or cat in a divorce? What happens to pets?

Pet Custody During a Divorce

There is probably a fifty-fifty split on divorces that end amicably versus those that end in a bitter battle. No matter what situation you find yourself in, if you have a pet, at some point the decision will need to be made regarding who has rights to the animal. If the dog or cat is only beloved by one spouse, then this should be an easy decision. However, just as with children, both “parents” usually feel strong about their furry children. Because of this, figuring out custody rights for Spot is often a complicated, bittersweet challenge.

It is unfortunate enough to lose your spouse, your home, and your old Alanis Morisette cd collection; losing your dog turns your difficult time into a sad country song. To make matters worse, in most states, the court of law does not differentiate animals any differently than other items. In the court’s eyes, your cat Fluffy is equivalent to a television or boat. In short, animals equal “assets”.

Considering that over 60% of households in the United States own one or more pets, you can see how this topic has become a hotbed issue in recent years. While the majority of pets are dogs, cats, fish, snakes, iguanas, and even pigs face the same dilemma.

Add in the astoundingly high divorce rates in America, and you get a clear picture of how big an epidemic pet custody battles could become in the future.

Pet Visitation Rights During Divorce

Given the number of divorces each year, coupled with the number of pets in the average household, you can imagine the tremendous burdens courts would have if they were responsible for granting visitation rights for animals. This burden on the court is likely one reason why the law does not treat animals the same way as children in divorce cases. Enforcing visitation rights for children is complex and resource intensive for the court system; adding pets into the mix would cause an overload.

Another way to look at is this: courts view animals as property and ascribe them property rights. Can you imagine if the judge awarded your ex-spouse visitation rights to your couch? How awkward would that be every other weekend and Wednesday nights?

Fortunately for pet owner’s, this view may be changing. It appears that some judges try to weight the options of what is best for the pet. In some instances, they have indeed determined matters beyond custody; there are cases where support was given, as well as visitations.

However, you cannot readily rely on this for your divorce proceedings.

Pets and Custody Divorce Factors

Many factors can help determine who gets custody of the pet(s) during a divorce proceeding. For starters, proof of actual ownership is proven. For example, did your spouse own the dog or cat before your marriage? If not, who made the purchase or adoption? If you have separate bank accounts, you may show proof of how much you spend on pet food, toys, and the like as an indicator of your care. Do you spend more time with the pet or take them to training obedience classes? This could factor in your favor as well.

Other considerations could include who can spend more time with the pet, financial obligations, and living arrangements. For instance, a home with a backyard is favorable versus to a studio apartment.

Desire may be another area of concern. The judge may suspect that one spouse is using the pet as a “power play” to harm the other. Pets can also be a bargaining chip; if you let your spouse keep the car, they will relinquish the pet.

Of course, not all pet custody battles become mean-natured. Often, both spouses genuinely love their pet as they would a child. This makes it tough to part ways with the animal and deciding who gets ownership may not be a clear choice to the court.

When possible, who gets custody of the dog or cat is a decision for the couple. If you can make a decision amicably, it will be best for all parties involved; much better than allowing a third-party to choose.

Pet Custody and Divorce Lawyers

Finally, always keep in mind that divorce is not only stressful for couples and their family, but for their pets as well. Dogs, especially, often experience depression, loss of appetite, and other signs of stress. Always be certain to pay plenty of attention to them and try not to neglect their needs.

If you find yourself considering a divorce and have questions about pet custody or any other issues, consult a local Fort Lauderdale divorce lawyer. You should always consult legal counsel before seeking a divorce. A divorce lawyer can help you decide the best way to proceed.