According to a recent National Pet Owners Survey, approximately 71.1 million households have pets as members of their family. With the divorce rate so high and so many families having pets, it should not be a shock to learn that the number of pet custody cases has continued to increase.
Pets and the Law
Traditionally, pets have been viewed by the courts as property. This means that, in the event of a divorce, the couple’s pets would be lumped into all of the other marital property to be divided up. The Animal Legal Defense Fund, or the ALDF, stated that recently, however, a number of courts are beginning to treat animals differently than other property, such as furniture or fine china.
Legal Considerations in Pet Custody Cases
There are situations where it is more easily determined who will get to keep the pet. For example, if someone owned the pet prior to getting married, they would get to keep the pet should they divorce. Similarly, one person may be awarded the pets if the other is moving to a residence that does not allow pets.
If an argument ensues over the custody of the pets, the ALDF recommends that the court consider a number of factors in determining what is best for the couple’s pets. These factors include who actually takes care of the pet, whether the pet has a stronger emotional attachment to one person over the other and who can best financially afford the pet. Additionally, whoever obtains primary custody of any children that resulted from the marriage may also obtain custody of the pets.
Approaching Pet Custody
Unfortunately, pets can easily become a bargaining tool or a way for one person to continue to have control over the other. For example, if the ex-couple agrees to shared custody, one person may repeatedly take the other to court over visitation and vet bills. However, this does not have to be the case.
If both ex-spouses have a relationship with the pet and they can agree to work together, there is no reason why the two cannot share custody. That being said, pets need consistency, so working out a monthly plan may be better for them than a weekly plan. It is also important to take the type of pet into consideration, as sharing custody may work better for dogs versus cats as it is usually less stressful for them to travel.