A 2015 survey from the American Pet Products Association found that about
two-thirds of American households own a pet, which proves that we love
our animal companions.
During a time when more couples are delaying starting families, it’s
understandable why pets are receiving so much attention in U.S. divorces.
When a married couple splits, who gets custody of their beloved dog or cat?
Unfortunately, the courts don’t have much to say on the issue since
they treat pets like property. For the loving pet owner, it seems bizarre
that the court doesn’t differentiate between their Labradoodle “Einstein”
and their leather sofa, but that’s the way it is.
In the court’s view, the family pet has zero market value despite
the fact that a pet can easily cost thousands of dollars a year in vet
bills, food, and grooming, just to keep them healthy.
Spouses Using Pets Against Each Other
Unfortunately, spouses can be vindictive. Sometimes they’ll take
whatever their spouse loves and try to use that against them, even if
it’s a pet. For example, a husband may try to take his wife’s
cat, even though “Lilly” is clearly more attached to his wife.
We can all agree that people can be very emotionally attached to their
pets, but few can actually afford to fight over them.
When it comes to pets and
divorce, it’s a matter of ownership, not custody. That being said, it’s
best to write a
prenuptial agreement that clearly defines which spouse gets the pets in the event of a divorce.
If you do not have a prenuptial agreement but you have children, we recommend
keeping your children in mind if they are attached to your family pets.
Usually the pets should go wherever the children are going.
Often, a dog owner will scale back their pet custody demand when they think
about how much work it is to care for a pet while single. They want custody
of the dog, but they don’t have the time to give the dog the care
and attention he needs.
Generally, it’s best for the spouses to agree on an arrangement that
is in the pet’s best interests. If they want to continue with a
visitation schedule after the divorce, they can do everything through
text if they have to.
For more information about pet custody,
contact Claery & Green, LLP!