Who Gets The Dog In Your Divorce?

The breakup of a marriage is an emotionally and physically challenging time. There are many smaller components that must be worked out and things divided up. For many couples, this includes working out who will retain custody of family pets.  

How is this decided? And how can you best protect your right to your pets? Here are a few key things to know.

1. Pets Are Personal Property

While you understandably love your pets—often like family—they are not people by legal standards. For divorce and other legal matters, pets are considered personal property to be handled like the rest of your belongings. This may make a family court judge hesitant to get involved in determining the pet's custody and/or visitation arrangements. 

2. You Can Address Pets in Agreements

The good news is that you can avoid the court making the decision about Fido or Fluffy by including them in an agreement with your spouse. The best way to do this is by laying out custody and even financial details in a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement. 

You may also negotiate an arrangement in an out-of-court divorce agreement. Even if you and your spouse need to work with a mediator or use another form of alternative dispute resolution, working this out between yourselves allows you to maintain control over this decision. 

3. The Judge May Carefully Decide

A growing number of states have recognized that your dog, snake, or horse shouldn't quite be in the same category as your sofa or your car. These states may call on judges to decide custody, ownership, or visitation on the basis of what is in the best interests of the pets. Even if your state doesn't yet have pet laws in divorce, a judge often has the leeway to rule on this issue if you really can't come to an agreement. 

4. You Can Craft a Winning Argument

The factors a judge will use to determine custody vary from case to case. However, they commonly include things like who paid for the pet, who provides medical care and maintenance, who spends time with the pet, and what attachment any minor children have for the pet. 

The good news is that this lets you build a solid case that you should get custody. Put together records and receipts of expenses you have paid, log your time spent caring for and playing with the pet, and gather witness statements about your relationship with your pet. 

Where Can You Learn More?

What are the laws in your state? How can you best protect yourself and your pet in the event of a divorce? To learn more, contact a local law firm, such as the Law Firm of Karen L. Johnson, P.A.