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What happens to pets during a divorce?

If you are like many Alabama residents, you may have a pet that you care deeply about. If divorce is on your radar, you are probably wondering how custody of your pet may be determined.

This issue has been getting a lot more attention in recent years as pets have truly become family members. However, family law courts treat pets as property, so there is no custody process in place for your dachshund like there is for your daughter.

The good news is that many judges are sensitive to the attachment people have with their pets, so more care could be applied when determining which spouse gets to keep the pet compared to which spouse gets to keep the couch.

Typically, judges look at which spouse had a closer bond with the pet, which spouse did more to take care of the pet and which spouse is willing to pay for the pet’s care. Additionally, if one of the spouses had the pet prior to the marriage, he or she would be more likely to be awarded “custody.”

Alternatively, some pet owners choose to work out pet custody agreements on their own so that both spouses can still have time with the pet. Like child custody plans, these pet owners write out a schedule for pet visitation and may even address how pet expenses will be shared.

A mediator or a family law attorney with experience handling pet custody issues may be willing to help pet owners reach a pet custody agreement. It might also be wise to consult an animal expert, such as a veterinarian, to determine what type of arrangement may truly be in the pet’s interest.

Finally, it’s important to keep in mind that some spiteful spouses use pets as pawns in divorce cases. Knowing that the other spouse cares deeply about the pet, they may try to get the pet-loving spouse to give up on other assets in exchange for the pet.

If you think that this situation might arise in your divorce, make sure to bring it up to your divorce lawyer so that he or she is aware and can best protect your rights. Caring deeply for your pet should not be used against you in your divorce.

Source: Huffington Post, “Divorce Confidential: The Fight for Your Pet in Divorce,” Caroline Choi, Sept. 29, 2014