There are many reasons a divorce may turn ugly. For example, if one spouse committed adultery, if one spouse is trying to keep the other from getting his or her “fair share” of the assets, or if children are involved. However, in recent years, another reason divorces are getting particularly nasty is over the ownership of pets.
For many people, pets are like a part of the family. That means, when it comes to divorce, the thought of never seeing Fluffy or Fido again is a lot more emotionally trying than having to give up the wedding china or high-tech espresso maker.
With that in mind, if you’re heading for divorce, what can you do to ensure you retain custody of your beloved pet(s)? Here are some things you should know about and be prepared for:
Know the law. Before heading to court, know what the laws are. “In all 50 states,
animals are considered property. Judges won’t grant custody of a pet, but rather award ‘property’ as they see fit,” explains Gina Caloger, a New Jersey attorney specializing in animal law (Bartiromo,2012). This means the way in which pet custody is decided will be quite different than the way child custody is decided.
- The “original owner” of the pet will be a factor. Since pets are considered property, it may work in your favor to present proof that you were the one to adopt or purchase the animal (Animal League Defense Fund, n.d.).
- The primary caregiver may be a factor. If you did not purchase or adopt the pet but paid for the animal’s expenses, like vet bills, or acted as the primary caregiver this may be considered by the judge. The Animal League Defense Fund website reads, “Information that may help to validate your claims as primary caregiver would be receipts for veterinary care, licensing records, receipts for grooming, dog training classes, food, and other items purchased for the companion animal,” (n.d.). If a neutral party, like a neighbor or pet store employee, always saw you walking or caring for the pet you may consider getting a statement from him or her to help your case.
Be prepared to share. While you may want to get as far away from your ex as possible, if there’s
a pet involved there’s a good chance that the judge or attorneys involved will deem “shared custody” appropriate.
Consider negotiating. Instead of heading to court, consider have an attorney draft up a legally
binding agreement as to what will happen with the family pet. Doing so can save time, money, and help avoid emotional trauma. “Litigation is a lot more expensive than negotiation,” concluded Gina Calogero (Bartiromo, 2012).
Unfortunately, when it comes to pet custody disputes, a pet can’t speak up and express a preference for who it would like to live with. This means it is up to the owners (you and your soon-to-be ex) to do what is best for the pet. Don’t act out of anger and try to get custody just to spite your spouse. While a pet may be considered property by law, it is a living thing and its well-being and quality of life must be the motivator in the final decision of custody.