Fighting Over Pet Custody

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 & Hammond, LLP!