Pet Custody and Divorce
If you are getting a divorce and have a family pet, you may worry about who will get custody of your pet. After all, pets are more than mere possessions, and their custody can be one of the most contentious issues in a divorce. Questions about a pet’s best interests, ownership, veterinary care and daily expenses may be involved in divorce litigation or covered in settlement agreements. At Charles R. Ullman & Associates, we understand how deeply people love their pets and how important it can be to continue a relationship with them after a divorce.
Are Pets Just Property?
The courts uniformly consider pets as property. As such, the courts distribute pets to one spouse or the other like other forms of property in a typical divorce. Usually, the best outcome is for divorcing spouses to agree on an arrangement for their pets. Otherwise, the courts will decide which spouse gets custody. If custody of a pet is in dispute, you can help your chances by presenting proof that you purchased the pet. If you did not purchase the pet, other forms of proof may be necessary, such as a license or registration showing your name as owner or affidavits from friends, family or neighbors who can testify that you owned and cared for the pet during the marriage.
Pet Custody Agreement
It is helpful to discuss your concerns about your pet with your attorney to ensure it is clear how important your pet is to you. For some divorcing couples, drafting a pet custody agreement can be of help. The document could define how you and your spouse will handle pet ownership, care and visitation after your divorce. If you have several pets, it is best to include reference to each one in the agreement. Or you may want to draft separate agreements for each. Here are some questions to consider when you draft a pet custody agreement:
- Who has primary custody?
- Will the other spouse have visitation rights?
- What are the visitation requirements including days or times of day?
- Who will be the primary veterinarian?
- Who will make primary decisions on pet health care?
- Will a spouse be able take the pet on trips out of state?
- Who will care for the pet when the primary owner must travel without the pet?
- Who will care for the pet if the primary owner has a serious, long-term illness?
- Who will have custody of remains after the pet passes on?
The compassionate attorneys at Charles R. Ullman and Associates will provide you the legal support you need when it comes to pet ownership after your divorce.
A Pet’s Best Interests
Recently, courts have begun to apply a more flexible analysis and a “best interests” standard to deciding pet custody. The courts may consider which spouse provided for more of the pet’s needs such as food, shelter, medical care, grooming and exercise. The courts also may consider other forms of evidence, such as who provided training or who would be better able to financially support the pet. Another consideration is whether a spouse has other animals that would live in the same space as the pet at issue. All in all, the courts are approaching pet custody somewhat as they do child custody, approving visitation arrangements and, in some circumstances, requiring a spouse to provide financial support for the care of the pet. If divorce is in your near future, and you have a pet, be prepared for questions about its custody. Gather evidence of ownership, care and companionship and have it ready to present in court or to your mediator. If you have any questions and wish to speak to one of our family law attorneys, please feel free to contact us today and schedule a consultation.