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Six Factors You Need to Understand About Pet Custody in a Divorce

On Behalf of | Oct 3, 2020 | Divorce

In this day and age, a considerable majority of people in the United States have pets or companion animals in their homes. Particularly with dogs and cats, but not to the exclusion of many other animals, pets are considered akin to family members. As a consequence, addressing the matter of pet custody and visitation can prove to be a challenging aspect of a good many divorce cases in the United States.

  • Companion animals, not property
  • Primary caretaker of pet
  • Children and a pet
  • Residential situation of parties
  • Work situation of parties
  • Pet visitation

Companion Animals, Not Property

One factor that has become highly important in recent years is a recognition that a pet or companion animal is more than just marital property, an asset subject to the distribution process between spouses during the course of marriage dissolution proceedings. This recognition has resulted in many states enacting specific laws to address the manner in which pets are “dealt with” during a divorce case.

In states that have not enacted specific legislation to address the special status pets hold in the lives of people, many courts have established rules, protocols, and practices to delineate how issues surrounding companion animals will be addressed in divorce cases. As a consequence, there can be rather significant variation between the manner in which issues pertaining to pets are addressed in a particular jurisdiction.

Primary Caretaker of Pet

In determining who will have “custody” or primary ownership of a pet as a result of divorce necessitates the consideration of factors that include which spouse historically has been the primary caretaker of a companion animal. This standard is somewhat akin to a consideration utilized by courts when ascertaining which parent should have primary physical custody of a child born during the marriage.

Children and a Pet

Children born during a marriage and the family pet oftentimes have a close link. Pets tend to be part of the household, with a particular connection to children. As a consequence, when considering which spouse will have primary “pet custody,” the determination of which parent will have primary custody of the children is a key factor in determining where a companion animal will go.

Considering how a pet will be handled during a divorce with children involves a two-level analysis. First, the analysis involves a general consideration of facts and factors utilized whenever a pet is an issue in a divorce. Second, the matter of the placement of the pet also touches on what is in the best interests of a child in this type of situation.

Residential Situation of Parties

In ascertaining where a pet will reside following a divorce, another consideration is the living situation of the spouses. The residential situation of the spouse who will provide a primary residence for the companion animal must be outfitted to safely and appropriately provide a wholesome home to the pet. If there will be a fairly equal sharing of pet residency or so-called pet custody following a divorce, the consideration of the state of both homes in regard to the pet (or pets) is necessary.

Work Situation of Party

The work situation of the parties to a divorce also comes into play when considering pet custody. The party who will provide primary care for a companion animal needs to be suitably available to provide for the pet’s essential needs. If work requirements necessitate, the party providing primary care to the companion animal must be able to have a plan for pet care when they are not personally available.

Pet Visitation

Finally, when it comes to understanding pet custody in a divorce setting, the spouse who will not be the primary caretaker is able to seek a “pet visitation” schedule. Unlike with children in most instances, courts do not have specific more comprehensive guidelines regarding pet visitation. That is something that is worked out through negotiation between the parties or established by order of the court.

An experienced divorce lawyer can provide more detailed information about pet custody, pet visitation, and related issues in a marriage dissolution. The process of retaining legal representation begins with scheduling an initial consultation with a prospective divorce attorney. There typically is no charge for an initial consultation with a divorce lawyer.

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