For the average owner, a dog or cat is more than just a pet. These animals are extended members of the family. For this reason, in the event of a divorce, many couples will struggle with determining who gets to keep the animal. You might be surprised to discover that there are laws in place that can simplify this decision for you. If you are a pet owner headed towards divorce, it's important that you know what to expect.
Who Gets To Keep The Pet?
Although you don't think of your pet as a purchase, in the eyes of the law, pets are considered property. When you acquired ownership of the pet is important to the court. If you came into the marriage with the pet, claims for custody are generally pretty black and white, with the original owner being awarded the pet. If you and your partner purchased the pet during the marriage, the animal is considered equal property and there are a host of other factors that must be considered before a decision can be made.
Who registered the pet? All states require that pets be registered before you can legally have the animal in your home. Typically, the person who registered the pet is also considered legally responsible – making them the legal owner. If the pet was purchased during the marriage and you are trying to prove that you personally owned the pet, having this information can help prove your case.
Are you not the legal owner, but primarily take care of the pet? If so, presenting health records can help. Generally, veterinary offices will keep a record of who is both bringing in the pet for care and, most importantly, who is covering the cost. If you need to prove to the court that you should be awarded the pet because you have been financially responsible for it, this information can also be helpful.
One thing that can trump any registration or health record is pet welfare. Similar to a child, the court will choose the environment best suited for the pet. For instance, say you have a large breed dog that requires a yard for running, but you are living in an apartment in the city and your partner is in a suburban home with a large yard. Regardless of any other information, the court will generally reward ownership to the individual with the living arrangements best suited for the needs of the animal.
Divorce is challenging, and when you factor in pet ownership, this only magnifies the issue. Contact a family law firm for more help.