Many people consider Pets to be family members, and yet the law considers pets to be property in a divorce case. During a divorce, spouses can, and often do, create a custody agreement for the pet. Deciding how to handle pet custody depends on your relationship with the pet and your willingness to help care for it.
Letting One Spouse Take the Pet
Sometimes the pet has chosen a favorite human in the family or is considered to one person’s pet. The pet still likes everyone, but there’s that one person with whom the pet seems to have a deeper bond. If that relationship is clear to each spouse, then that makes the initial decision simple: The pet should go live with that person. If the other spouse wants to occasionally see the pet, too, that requires working out an agreement.
Keeping or Separating Pairs of Pets
When the divorcing couple has more than one pet, dividing the pets is an option as long as the pets aren’t bonded. If they are, you should avoid separating them; bonded pets don’t do well when separated, and they can develop anxiety or become depressed. Bonded pairs should be treated as one unit. If the pets aren’t bonded, however, dividing them is easier but may still require adjustment.
Arranging Joint Custody
It is possible to treat a pet like a child in that you and your ex create a joint custody agreement. You’ll have to agree on items such as what the pet eats, what exercise they get, and which vet the pets will see, particularly if one “pet parent” is moving to another city, as well as, how the cost of food, grooming, vet bills and medical supplies will be divided. If you have pet insurance, who will pay deductibles and premiums, and who will be able to use it are additional questions to address. You should make agreements like this with the help of your attorneys because you want to be sure you cover all pet care issues.
Show animals present additional issues because the care of the animal can cost so much more. Plus, there may be issues of the cachet of owning a winning show animal; who gets credit, who pays the costs, and who gets any financial rewards if there are monetary prizes in a contest?
One factor that might simplify these questions is if the animal was given as a gift. In that case, they’re treated as gifts for the purpose of the divorce and that the spouse who received the pet as a gift would the person that gets the pet in the settlement.
Pet Custody and Collaborative Divorce
The Collaborative Divorce process is an ideal venue for resolving some of the questions about pet custody and who pays the costs . Collaborative Divorce is an interest-based negotiation that allows both sides to look at the options and reach an agreement. The negotiations in the collaborative setting can result in an agreement that is more satisfactory than just having a judge decide what will happen with a pet.
For assistance with any aspect of your divorce, contact us at Chase, Berenstein and Murray, Counselors at Law.