What Happens to Pets in a Divorce?
To an animal lover, the thought of giving up a beloved pet in a divorce can be extremely difficult. For many of us, our pets are more than just “man's best friend” – they are part of our families. So how do you handle "dividing" your pet in the divorce process? Here are a few things to consider:
Check Your Pet's PapersIf your pet is purebred, it probably has paperwork from the American Kennel Club or Cat Fanciers' Association. Look at these documents to determine if you, your spouse, or both are listed as an owner. If you can establish that you are the primary owner and main caretaker of the animal, the court may rule in your favor. You can also use veterinarian records, vaccination reports, and grooming receipts to prove that you are the main owner.
Considered Shared CustodyMost people think of human children when they hear the term "parenting plan", but these arrangements can be modified to work for pets as well. Although it may seem unusual to create a shared custody agreement for a dog or a cat, true animal lovers understand that pets are sometimes incredibly connected to their owners. If you've been struggling with a rocky marriage for a long time, your pet may have even brought you tremendous comfort during emotionally difficult times. If you and your spouse cannot agree on where the animal should live, consider creating a shared schedule that allows both of you to spend time with your pet.
If you do decide to draft a shared custody agreement, don't forget to include important details about which party will bear the costs of maintaining the animal. Include language that specifies who is responsible for veterinarian visits, grooming, food, and end-of-life decisions. You would be surprised how often people disagree on caring for terminally ill or ailing animals. Address these issues now before emotions take over.
Be FairAlthough you love your pet, make sure you also acknowledge your ex-spouse's relationship with the animal. When courts address parenting and custody issues with respect to children, they make decisions based on the children's best interests. Try to do the same for your pet. If your dog or cat has a close relationship with the other person, make a decision that is motivated by fairness, compassion, and what is best for your animal.