While contentious issues about child custody and visitation are often hotly contested during a divorce, issues with pet custody are increasingly prevalent. People often do consider pets to be their "babies", so it should be no surprise that what to do about a pet in a divorce situation has become a hot topic. If your pet is part of your life and you anticipate some problems with your spouse during the divorce, read on to learn more about how the family courts treat this issue.

Custody is Not the Issue

There is no such thing as custody of a family pet, and this is because the courts treat pets as property, not offspring. Just like the family home or a piece of art, your pet is part of your marital estate as an asset, not as an issue for custody or visitation. You can, of course, include a provision about your pet in your prenuptial, separation and/or divorce agreement, but there is no legal basis for this provision, and the disposition of your pet may be left up to the judge's discretion.

Be Proactive and Form You Own Plan

Since the courts can do little more than lump your pet in with the division of other marital assets, a divorcing couple would be wise if they drew up their own agreement about the pet. You may not find that your agreement is legally-binding, but getting a pet parenting plan down on paper and signed by both parties may help forestall any future disagreements and leave one less issue for the judge to decide. You can appoint one pet parent to be the main custodian and even set up a plan for the other pet parent to visit with the pet.

If You Cannot Come to an Agreement

While a family pet is legally considered property, most divorcing couples and the judges that preside over their divorce cases understand that they are far more than that. When left up to the judge to decide, questions such as the ones below are likely to be asked:

  • Which party was the primary caregiver for the pet in the past? Who was responsible for the vet visits, the walks, the feeding, the grooming, the bathing and other needs of the pet?
  • Which party can provide the best living environment for the pet? A fenced yard or access to a bark park could give one pet parent a boost in the consideration.
  • Does the couple get along well enough to share "custody" of the pet? Often, when all things look equal, 50/50 pet parenting is the best choice. Pets can flourish if this form of ownership can be made to work. Many couples who cannot agree on much else often manage to pull together for the love of their pets.

For more information, contact Garrett & Silvey Law Firm or a similar organization.