When it comes to divorce people often think about the splitting of assets and deciding custody of children. But what about pets? Pets can feel like children to many people. They cared for them from birth, loved them, fed them, sheltered them, everything you would do for a human child. So now that the marriage is splitting, who gets the pet(s)?
Under the current law, pets are considered property. They are the same as any material item in the home in the court’s eyes when regarding a divorce. The court will apply one of two types of law in making its decision: laws of community property or laws of equitable distribution. In a jurisdiction which uses community property law, property is split 50/50. In one which uses equitable distribution, property is split as to how the courts see fair.
Although pets are considered property, the court may spend some time deciding which owner the pet is awarded based on time spent with the animal and other factors. We are even seeing courts award “petimony”, an alimony-like payment to the custodial owner from the non-custodial owner.
Many times people who are getting divorced can agree as to who whom gets which pet before the divorce and it never becomes an issue. This is usually the best case scenario. If the are two dogs, for instance, one spouse gets one dog and the other spouse gets the other dog.
As more couples are forgoing human reproduction and opt to have pets instead, we will see more and more cases of pets custody disputes. The important thing to remember is that courts do not spend as much time and energy on pets as they do human offspring so it may be best to come to an agreement on your own, something that you can both live with.