While it is often forgotten, making decisions about pets during divorce is extremely difficult. Both parties want to retain ownership of the dog or cat they love so much, and animosity about the demise of marriage can lead to resentment and spite.
Kiplinger explains how the law interprets pets and divorce. Understanding the law can help you and your ex navigate this challenging and emotional experience.
Pets as property vs. best interests of pets
In general, pets are classed as personal property. As a result, divorcing couples must establish ownership of the pet to decide who gets it after the divorce. Ownership can be established by adoption papers or invoices from a pet shop or breeder. Ownership can also be established with receipts for vet bills or for food and other necessary supplies to care for the pet.
As you can imagine, the pets-as-property model of the law leaves a lot to be desired. For most pet owners, their animals are family. That is why a few states now consider the best interest of the pet at the center of the dispute. The court looks at the statements of each owner, as well as the needs of the pet, to determine how to approach custody.
How to develop a custody arrangement for your pet
Even if you do not live in a state that looks at the best interest of the pet, you can still develop a custody agreement with your former spouse. When creating your agreement, be explicit with rights and responsibilities. In addition to creating a visitation/custody schedule, you should also set terms for legal custody. For instance, who can make medical decisions on behalf of your dog or cat?
Also, include provisions related to dispute settlement. There may come a time when you and your ex disagree about care and custody of the pet, and having an impartial third party settle the dispute is beneficial.
When developing a pet custody arrangement with your ex, try to be as understanding as possible. Approaching the issue with care and compassion greatly increases your odds of a successful outcome.