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Who gets the pets in a divorce?

On Behalf of | Feb 16, 2021 | Divorce

Anyone with a pet knows the joy and happiness they bring into your life. You also know how hard it would be to even consider letting go of your pet. Unfortunately, this is a very real concern for divorcing couples, who must make painful decisions when it comes to their beloved animals.

Opinions on pet custody have changed over the years as the special bond between pets and their owners becomes better understood. However, many courts still struggle to make these decisions in a way that satisfies all parties, including the dogs and cats at the center of the disputes. Time explains a few of the legal issues surrounding pet custody and how these issues are typically addressed.

Pets as property

Legislation passed in 1897 determined that pets were indeed property. At the time, this designation was mostly correct, because pets had a monetary value linked to work performed for their owners. As society developed into the one we are familiar with today, pets became much more than mere property to the vast majority of owners.

When pets are regarded as property, custody battles are determined by ownership. If a pet was purchased from a breeder, then whoever’s name is on the bill of sale would be deemed the owner. If the pet was adopted, the name on the adoption form may be used as proof of ownership. In other cases, expenses related to pet care, such as vet bills, food bills, costs for lodging, etc., can be used to establish ownership.

Pets as part of the family

While it is not widespread, a handful of states now look at pets as part of their respective families. Much like children, these states take the best interest of the pet into question when making decisions about custody. For example, if one spouse plans to move out of state after the divorce is finalized, the court might determine that it is in the best interest of elderly pets to remain in their current living situation.

Divorcing couples can also take the custody process into their own hands. Custody and visitation plans allow each party to spend ample time with their pet, without depriving the other of their bond. This is usually the best option for all involved, which is why so many are urging for courts to take a different view of the pets as property model.

All aspects of divorce are challenging, but many people claim that pet custody decisions are among the hardest. Being flexible and compassionate towards your former spouse can save you a lot of heartache.


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