Although not bound by blood, pets are an integral part of any family. Pets are proven to be great companions in health and sickness. They also help reduce stress. Therefore, our love for them transcends in the same way. However, seeing them as a part of our families and not as properties often leads to custodial issues during divorce. The fate of pets in divorce is just another thing that has to be decided, among other things the spouses share.
The court sees pets as property and decides the custody agreement accordingly. The case is easier when there is a mutual understanding between the partners. However, if neither of the partners refuses to back down and both want custody of the pet, they can get help from family attorneys. A family attorney will address the laws to determine who the pet’s rightful owner is. And how they can help them attain ownership in the court.
How a Judge Decides Your Pet’s Custody Allocation
Generally, a judge considers a few basic factors when deciding on a pet’s custody. The factors can vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction (the laws and regulations in your area/state). However, these are the common considerations in pet custody:
- Who bought the pet?
- Is there proof of payment?
- Who finances day-to-day care? (the pet’s food, daycare, medical bills, other services).
- Who spends more time with the pet?
- Are your children involved in the custody agreement? If so, who gets the children, and how does the pet being away might affect them?
- What is the pet’s preference? Does it like one partner’s company more than the others? (Only applicable to the pets who can show preference).
A Pet Custody Agreement Depends on Its Well-Being
Deciding who gets the pet after the divorce can be as messy as it gets. However, if you and your partner can reach a mutual understanding without knocking on the judge’s door, things can be a lot easier and will save both of you a lot of time and money. Unfortunately, it is not that straightforward in most cases. Both partners are heavily involved in the pet, and when emotions are already running high, both can be stubborn and demanding.
In those cases, the judge usually decides the pet’s custody by looking at the aforementioned common factors. However, there can be alternative situations making simple facts more complicated. For example, if a pet is a gift to one of the spouses, they will be the lawful owner after marriage. On the other hand, if the pet is mistreated or not well cared for by that person, the court might favor the other partner who has been taking care of the pet.
Other Facts Considered By The Court
There can be a mixed pool of factors. In situations where kids are involved, it heavily affects the custody of the pet. If you are the one who bought the pet or took care of the pet most often, but the other partner is awarded the custody of children, the judge may decide in favor of the latter parent. This is because children are more sensitive and attached to their pets. However, it depends on how much the children are affected by being away from the pet.
Typically, ruling a pet’s custody is not the first thing on the judge’s agenda to address while dealing with custodial matters. Animals’ custody is considered less important in divorce matters, and likely, it will not be decided until the very end. You can push up the allotment of your pet if you show the dire need for it. For example, the animal is not a family pet but a horse or sheep, and you need to put up a show, and it is a means of your livelihood. Then you can ask for an emergency ruling, settling the custody matter as early as possible.
Is Visitation Allowed?
Visiting your pet is rarely an issue between divorced couples. You can visit your pet generally if your partner sees it fit. You can appeal to the judge to allow visitation if your ex-spouse does not let you see the pet. Judges usually expect the partners to resolve these kinds of matters personally. However, depending on the gravity of the divorce, the judge may see it fit to get involved and pass on a ruling.
Can I Get Joint Custody for My Pet?
Joint custody of pets is not very common in most jurisdictions, and there are little to no laws settling joint custody. Only a few states, including California, Illinois, and Alaska, have laws regarding joint custody of pets. Similar to visitation rules, a judge will expect you to work this situation with your partner. Once the judge passes an order regarding the ownership of the pet, it is very unlikely that they will address the appeal again. However, you can settle this matter out of court with your partner by finding an amicable joint custody agreement.
Can I Sue for Pet Ownership?
It is hard for most pet owners to lose their pets to divorce. Therefore, you can sue your ex-spouse in civil or small claims court to re-open the case and try to claim ownership. However, before you take this step, you need to ask yourself if it is worth the time and money. Like many other pet owners, you might find getting our pet back worth any amount of time and money. If so, you should hire a family attorney who will help you get your pet back by using various tactics. The process generally involves gathering evidence based on which you can sue your ex-spouse, witnesses, and presenting the case to the judge.
Speak with an Attorney to Discuss How Pet Custody is Determined Following a Divorce
Consulting a divorce attorney before going to court for your pet’s custody is the best way to get the matter solved most efficiently. Your pet might be important to you than other things being contested for in a divorce, but the judge usually keeps it on the bottom end of the list. Hence, you and your partner should consider a divorce lawyer for the best possible solution for pets in divorce and as early as possible.