Pets are often considered part of the family, like a child (except with the summer camp and college costs!). What happens to a pet in a divorce? An interesting question. Although each spouse may no longer love each other, the problem is they both still love their pets! The pet, again like a child, is deserving of the best home in the separated households and has to go somewhere. The question arises how would a court determine the best home for a pet?
Even though the spouses may consider the pet as part of the family – a living, breathing loved one – by law a pet is considered personal property. As such, the process by which a court of law determines rights to the pet is different from custody process for a child of the marriage. Typically, the pet will go to one person only, but it is possible for there to be a visitation schedule that you and your spouse agree to. Custody is often given to the person who paid more for the pet or contributed more money for the caring of the pet. Who took more and better care of the pet is also put into consideration. Oftentimes the pet will be given to whoever has custody of the children, if there are any, as child and pet most likely have a deep and vital attachment to one other. More recently, however, there have been more cases where there will be tests of how bonded the pet is to either of its owners. These cases are new and rarely applied (there is no pet custody formula) even though both owners may want it applied.
With any pet there are expenses that must be paid such as food, veterinary visits, groomers, daycare, and more. These expenses can also be split and agreed upon between the two parties to ensure that both people are contributing to taking care of the pet.
If you leave these decisions up to the court then they will treat the pet as property, which is often not what owners want to do. But one must remember that the court has no special bond with the pet. They look at such a situation with a detached eye. As the actual people who are bonded with the pet, it may help to establish a pet custody agreement in order to insure the best not only for you but for the pet as well. Such an agreement can be drawn up at any time and will lay out everything from visitation to expenses to medical issues. You can also include your pet in your prenuptial or postnuptial agreement.
Divorce is stressful enough and losing a pet that you love can make the process even worse. With children, courts look INDEPENDENTLY at the best welfare of the child (even appointing separate counsel to represent the child only), with pets, not so much (courts will not appointment counsel for a poodle or your pet python!). If the pet is that important to the couple then the couple should agree – in the form of a written understanding – to the terms that benefit best your furry (or scaly) companion.
If you are interested in finding out more about custody and any matrimonial issues, contact our office at 718-539-1100 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.