It’s no secret that people today love their pets. It’s estimated that in 2014 alone, Americans spent over $58 billion dollars on their animal companions. Many people consider their dogs and cats to be part of the family. Because of this, some divorces include orders regarding pets. The issue of who retains the pet can complicate things. In fact, a recent survey by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) has shown that 27% of AAML respondents reported seeing an increase in the number of couples who fought over the custody of a pet over the past five years. As a result, some considerations should be made to protect the interests of both parties, as well as those of the pet. If the parties can consider the best interests of the pet, they may be able to avoid fighting over their animals.
The Best Interests of the Pet
The first consideration before taking the matter to the court should be to determine who is best able to provide for the pet. For example, if one spouse works long hours, or is constantly travelling, then it may be in the best interests of the pet to live with the other spouse. Additional considerations include the living arrangements of each spouse, a stronger emotional attachment between one spouse and the pet, and whether a spouse is able to afford the basic needs to care for the pet.
While the court will not provide a judgment granting custody of the pet, it is possible for the spouses to come to an agreement and develop their own custody arrangement. We have included visitation agreements for pets. If the two spouses have a child, then they could agree to have the pet’s custody arrangement mirror the custody arrangement of the child. Other methods of determining a custody arrangement would be to alternate the custody between spouses week by week, allowing one spouse to take custody of the pet during weekends while the other takes weekdays. There could even be an agreement to alternate between the spouses on a month by month schedule.
The Court’s Decision
While an out of courtroom solution would be best for all parties, there are times when such matters cannot be solved amicably. In these instances, the court would make a determination on who retains ownership of the pet, just like it would make a determination on ownership of other property. As a result, in order to obtain ownership of the pet, a party might show that it has a greater property interest in the pet. This might be done in several ways, including providing proof of who adopted or purchased the pet, registration forms listing one party as the pet’s owner, and medical bills or records listing one spouse as the owner. Even receipts for necessities, such as food or medication, may establish ownership.
The end of a marital relationship is never easy. But with the right counsel and a desire to resolve differences as amicably as possible, steps can be taken to simplify the divorce process. Consider reaching out to a divorce attorney with familiarity in uncontested divorces to learn about your options.