Traditionally, the courts have treated pets as property in divorce cases. However, in many parts of the country judges are beginning to reconsider the way they handle who gets custody of the family pet.
How might these changing attitudes affect your divorce and what should you do about it?
Custody of family pets
Some states, including California, Alaska and Illinois, have passed laws that allow judges to examine the best interest of pets when deciding who gets custody. Because even in states with specific laws, it is up to the judge how to treat pet custody cases, many legal experts are advising married couples to include pets in their prenups so that there is less opportunity for divorcing spouses to use them as bargaining chips in property division disputes.
Preparing for pet custody issues
Married couples who want to ensure a smoother transition if they get divorced should plan for who will get custody of the family pets. In addition to including pets in prenuptial agreements, couples should agree on who will get custody of a pet acquired during the marriage at the time they acquire the pet. That person’s name should be the only name on the registration or adoption papers for the pet. Additionally, the custodial spouse should use funds from a separate bank account to pay for the adoption fees or purchase price.
Shuffling a pet between homes can be stressful and lead to behavioral issues. If you and your spouse are struggling to reach an agreement about custody for your family pet after a divorce, an attorney, mediator or divorce coach may be helpful.