To many people, the family dog or cat is a member of the family. When couples divorce, that can become a real problem. Legally, most family courts consider family pets to be property but, especially for couples without children, deciding who gets to keep Spot or Mittens can feel a lot more like a child custody dispute.
The issue can be quite emotional and contentious for divorcing couples, and family courts struggle with it, too. A Huffington Post divorce blogger remembers watching clients fire legal motions back and forth, each in an effort to convince a divorce judge he or she could make the most beneficial use of this critically-disputed “possession.”
Pet custody has become such a thorny problem in divorce litigation that many family courts have attempted to treat it like child custody, despite pets’ legal classification as property. In some states, they’ve even allowed expert testimony and issued shared custody, visitation and pet support orders in the best interest of the pet.
Whether you can get a judge to agree to that or not, you probably want to make the decision based on your pet’s best interest, too. The best choice is to negotiate with your soon-to-be ex either before or during your divorce and draw up a signed, dated agreement.
If neither of you can bear to live without your beloved companion animal, a divorce judge is likely to decide the issue based on who is in the best position to provide the pet with the most care, love and attention — or on who will have the most parenting time with the kids.
Here are a few things to consider when determining the best interest of your pet:
- Will you be living in a pet-appropriate home or apartment?
- Do you have a flexible work schedule, or would your pet be home alone much of the time?
- Will you have the financial ability to provide the necessary veterinary care in the long term?
- How attached are your kids to the furry member of the family?
If you can’t resolve pet custody on your own, collaborative law could be a great fit for you. In a collaborative divorce, experts who aren’t typically allowed in family court can be brought in to help you come up with a workable agreement.