What Happens to Your Pets in a Divorce?
If you are like most pet owners, your four-legged children mean as much to you as other people’s two-legged children. If you are married with pets, and the marriage ends in divorce, who gets the animals? How do you decide? What do you do if you can’t agree?
Doing the Right Thing
In an ideal situation, divorcing spouses can (and will) agree to do what’s best for the animal. Experts say that most dogs tend to be more partial to one person or another. If the animal is happiest with one spouse, or if that spouse is the one who handled most or all of the responsibilities associated with the pet—feeding, walking, cleaning litter box—it probably makes sense for the animal to stay with that party. If the divorce is amicable, you can even arrange visitation, or can pet-sit when your ex is away.
When You Can’t Agree
In all states, pets are still considered property, to be divided equitably or as community property. As a practical matter, though, pets are seldom listed as assets for the purposes of property settlement. It is not uncommon for the parties to a divorce to enter into a custody arrangement for a beloved pet, if the animal has an emotional attachment to both parties.
Legal experts caution, though, that parties be clear about visitation and financial responsibilities related to pets. Parties should probably put those agreements in writing, specifying who will pay for veterinary care. The parties may also have to determine who will make end-of-life decisions for a pet.
Though family law attorneys say they rarely see pet custody cases go to a judge, they note that, when they do, the judge will customarily grant custody to the children, so that the animal goes back and forth with the children.
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