As pet ownership increases in America, custody battles over dogs and cats during a divorce have become more common. Courts are increasingly treating animals more like children as opposed to property. In a 2013 case, a judge called a one-day hearing to allow both sides to present evidence showing that having custody of a pet was in that animal’s best interest.
Legal scholars say that the case provided a clear precedent for handling future disputes involving pets. Instead of filing lawsuits, the question of who owns a pet may now be handled in front of a judge. This gives both sides the chance to present evidence and have their voices heard, which could make it easier to settle such disputes.
According to the U.S Humane Society, roughly 179 million cats and dogs live in U.S. homes. To avoid custody battles, some couples are entering into agreements to determine who gets the pet and who is responsible for taking care of it in the event of a split. Battles for pets after a divorce may be more contentious if the couple does not have any children and one or both parties has a strong bond with their animal.
Whenever a property division dispute arises as a couple is discussing the possibility of ending their marriage, it may be worthwhile to each party to seek the assistance of a family law attorney. An attorney may be able to help negotiate a reasonable solution that caters to the best interest of everyone involved. For instance, if one person had health insurance for the pet, that person would take the animal to the vet while the other could help pay for the cost of care. A visitation schedule may be covered by such an agreement as well.
Source: USA Today, “Pets increasingly at center of divorce battles”, Cameron Saucier, Aug. 24, 2015