What happens with our pets during and after the divorce?

What happens with our pets during and after the divorce? What if I don’t trust the other side to take proper care of them?

A: For some couples, pets are an integral part of the family, but they can be another source of contention during a divorce. Under the law, pets are considered property, and they are essentially treated no different from a car or furniture in a divorce. Thus, there is no such thing as joint custody when it comes to pets, unless the spouses work out an arrangement themselves.

If a pet was purchased prior to the marriage, it is considered separate property, but if the pet was obtained when the individuals were married, it becomes community property.  Absent a prenuptial agreement, the court will generally divide community property evenly, so what happens to pets if there is no prenup in place?

In a litigated divorce, if the pet is considered community property and there is no prenup, the judge will determine who gets the pet by deciding who the primary caregiver is, and who has the strongest emotional bond.  Your case can be strengthened with testimony from family members and therapists, and by providing receipts from vet bills and other pet-related expenses.

To best serve your pet’s needs, you should first try to amicably work out an arrangement with your spouse, or mediate the issue outside the confines of the court.  Once you’ve come up with a decision, you can add this to your marital settlement agreement to finalize the issue of pet custody.

If during the divorce negotiations you feel that your pet’s safety is in danger, California law allows pets to be included in domestic violence restraining orders.  A restraining order can prevent the restrained person from coming into close contact with your pet, ensuring its safety until decisions can be made regarding their ultimate custody.

All things considered, pet custody issues can quickly become complicated, and it’s in your best interest to seek the advice of an experienced family law attorney to help you through the negotiations.

 

Posted in: Divorce, Family Law, Property Division