If a couple decides to divorce, who gets the dog? It is a very serious question, considering some 80 million households in the United States own pets according to the American Pet Products Association. When a couple separates, can a pet be given split custody between two homes? Will a judge hold a custody hearing on a pet? For most pet owners, dogs and cats are as much a part of the family as any human members, but divorce courts across the country have little to say on the matter, leaving the future of millions of pets caught in the middle of a divorce in jeopardy each year.
Pets Are Property
Traditionally, pets are viewed as property in the legal world, meaning they are no different than a piece of furniture, painting, or house plant in the eyes of a judge. This can feel strange, given most pet owners have significant emotional attachments to their pets. If pets are viewed as property, it is then up to a judge to decide which party gets the pet as part of their divorce settlement.
Most judges, however, do not give special treatment to pets. In the eyes of a judge, a pet is property to be divided, and many judges say they reject the idea of joint custody arrangements for pets or holding custody hearings for pets. Pet owners can attempt to prove they deserve the pet more than their soon to be ex, and can show proof to the court that they have spent more money or time on the pet or that they owned the pet premarriage.
In a landmark 2013 case in New York, a New York judge decided to hold a hearing over a dog, writing “Although Joey the miniature dachshund is not a human being and cannot be treated as such, he is decidedly more than a piece of property.” While that case was only in a low level court, it does indicate a small shift in judge’s mentalities towards pets. Many judges now say they consider the best interest of the pet itself and its family.
Fighting Over Fido
Divorce can bring out the worst in people, and all too often, couples attack each other by trying to take what the other holds dear. For many, this can mean family pets. One divorce lawyer and animal law expert says she sees these cases frequently. “You take whatever another person loves the most and try to use that against them.” Fighting over a pet can be expensive, however, and divorce specialists say that in many cases couples can not afford the costs associated with battling over their pets. There are alternatives to letting a judge decide, such as mediation or meeting with lawyers to set up a pet agreement outside of divorce, but there is nothing requiring a court to hold up these agreements. Some pet owners have been successful negotiating “co-parenting” arrangements but with their pets, sharing time with their animals between households.
We Care about You
At Abear Law Offices, our priority is providing our clients with the smoothest, most stress free divorce possible. We understand that every divorce is unique, and will do our best to handle your divorce will skill and compassion. If you are planning to file for divorce, allow one of our qualified DuPage County family law attorneys to help ease the process. Call 630-904-3033 today to schedule a free consultation with us.