Divorce, Custody and the Fate of Fido

Charles Ullman located in Raleigh NC

In many domestic violence situations, it’s not only the humans in the household who are in danger. Pets are all too often the victims of abuse, which has prompted Iowa lawmakers to consider a bill that would end joint custody of an animal that has been victimized.

Under the proposed legislation, pet custody would be awarded entirely to the victims of abuse, with the intent of keeping the animals out of the reach of the abuser.

Researchers across the United States have documented a correlation between domestic abuse and animal abuse for years. One study by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence found that 85 percent of women and 63 percent of children who came to domestic violence shelters reported incidents of pet abuse within their homes.

North Carolina domestic violence law allows a party to have possession of an animal, including the care, custody and control of any animal owned, possessed, kept or held as a pet. The court may also order a party from abusing a household pet.

In situations where there is no domestic violence, however, there is no specific law regarding pet custody in North Carolina. In determining child custody, the courts always look at what is in the best interests of the child. Not so for animals.  Pets are considered property under North Carolina law. That means that pets are included in the property division aspect of the divorce.

If anything can be positive about a dispute in divorce over a pet, it’s that the fight for Fido is usually based on a mutual love of the animal, not spite on the part of a disgruntled ex. A custody arrangement may be reached informally that is similar to what might happen with child custody, such as alternating weeks or allowing the animal to accompany the kids during every visit. Many times, an animal can actually ease the transition for kids who move from home to home on a periodic basis.

It can also be economically advantageous to come to an informal agreement regarding pet custody. Vet bills, medications and kennel bills add up. If both parties agree to split the costs, each person may catch a financial break as well. Although pet upkeep may seem like a pittance during a fight over custody, the costs shouldn’t be entirely ignored.

Acting in the best interest of your pet is an important consideration in divorce, regardless of whether you are leaving a violent situation or simply deciding on how you each can enjoy the companionship of a beloved friend. If you have questions or would like advice on ways to approach the issue of pet custody in a North Carolina divorce, it’s worth mentioning it to your North Carolina separation and divorce lawyer as soon as possible.

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