For many married couples, their pets are their children. However, when a couple divorces, determining who gets custody of companion animals can be challenging -- not to mention fraught with emotion. To further complicate things, according to one Minnesota attorney, pets are considered property, but whose?
There are no laws in any state that specifically address custody of pets. Nonetheless, couples can and do include the issue of who gets the pets in their divorce documents.
Some couples work out a shared custody arrangement, much like they would for a child, that spells out who gets the animal and when. They may agree on a visitation schedule that covers weekdays, weekends and holidays.
Animal trainers say that dogs are more comfortable moving back and forth between homes than cats are. However, it helps with the adjustment if their familiar belongings, like their beds, toys and bowls, move with them.
One way to avoid such disputes is to get a prenuptial agreement that addresses custody of your companion animals in the event of a divorce. However, unmarried couples who adopt a pet together may find this type of legal agreement helpful as well.
If a divorcing couple isn't able to work out an agreement on their own, a judge will end up settling the matter. Judges generally look at factors like which spouse has developed a closer emotional bond with the animal. Obviously, if there are children in the family who have bonded with the pet, that's an important consideration as well.
A beloved companion animal can be a vital source of comfort to people during and after a divorce when it may seem like their lives are in complete upheaval. If you want that animal to continue to be in your life, be sure to discuss this with your attorney so that you receive the legal guidance you need. If you and your estranged spouse cannot reach an agreement on pet custody terms, it's essential to work with your attorney to present your case for shared or sole custody to the court.
Source: CBS 4 Minnesota, "Pet Prenups Could Help Curb Custody Battles" Kim Johnson, Nov. 19, 2014