Divorce and Pets

The decision to file for divorce can be among the most difficult choices you may ever make. You may have exhausted every option available to try and save your marriage, but ultimately, you realize that you and your partner are better apart. It is no surprise to you that divorce can be stressful, especially trying to negotiate the various considerations necessary under law. As the process moves along, many people find themselves feeling sad and lonely, but you know that as long as you have your dog, you are never really alone — but, wait! How do you know for sure you will still have your dog when the divorce is finalized? Divorce and pets is becoming a more common issue in courtrooms across the country.

Companion animals like dogs and cats play a significant role in the lives of millions of Americans. Many of those same millions of Americans are likely to go through a divorce at some point in their lives, meaning their pets will need to be considered in the process. As a pet owner, you should keep a few things in mind to help you keep a beloved animal in your life after a divorce.

As far as the law in concerned, pets are property. To the families that love them, companion animals are obviously far more than that, but legally, a dog or cat is not really viewed differently that a toaster oven or an heirloom necklace. With that in mind, the easiest way to keep your pet may be a simple agreement between you and your ex. If your ex-spouse does not enjoy the same connection with the animal as you do, he or she may be perfectly willing to allow your furry friend to stay with you.

Unfortunately, life is not always that easy. Many divorcing individuals will find custody of pets to be a point of contention because neither spouse is particularly willing to let go of the relationship with the animal. Sadly, there are even some cases in which one spouse may use the pet as little more than leverage against the other. When left to the courts to decide, the decision most often is determined by proof of ownership.

Almost any type of registration related to a companion animal includes the name of the person listed as the owner. This included licenses, veterinary records, and pedigree registries all list the animal’s owner and are usually able to accommodate more than one name. However, if only one spouse’s name shows up on the various forms rather than both, the court is more easily able to determine which spouse is more invested in caring for the animal.

While courts may decide to grant ownership of a cat or dog to one spouse on a permanent basis, divorcing “pet-parents” are increasingly attempting to negotiate custody arrangements. Similar to a child custody agreement, this allows both partners to maintain a relationship with an animal they see as a part of the family. It is important to keep the best interest of the pet in mind, as well, by making sure needs such as exercise, space, and dietary habits can be met in both homes.

If you are worried about being able to meet your pet’s needs, talk to your veterinarian about your concerns. If you are worried about proving your pet should stay with you after divorce, talk to an experienced DuPage County family law attorney. Call our offices today and we will work with you to address any issues you may encounter throughout the divorce process.