Who Gets the Pets in a Divorce?

Increasingly, pets have become a bone of contention in divorce cases. Yes, cats, dogs and even exotic animal companions are more and more being treated like child custody cases when it comes to divorce.

So what’s the best way to resolve pet custody issues? A qualified family law lawyer can help negotiate “pet custody” when it comes to your divorce.

In fact, a 2006 study by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) found a significant increase in “pet custody” cases since 2001. This means pets are increasingly becoming part of the divorce process because they are now viewed as part of the family much like children.

Children and Pets

In decades past, the children determined where the pets lived after a divorce. That is, the dog or cat ended up living with the parent that got primary custody of the children. Today, the more traditional view of kids and pets has changed dramatically with the increase in civil unions, domestic partnerships, same-sex marriages and childless couples.

Primary Caretakers

Which spouse is the primary pet caretaker? That is, which spouse does the majority of work involved with the pet, including grooming, feeding, walking and even picking up the poop? In many divorce cases, the primary pet caretaker ends up with the family dog or cat as this individual is more involved in the day-to-day care of the animal.

Unfortunately, the law has not quite caught up with the pet custody trend. Judges tend to focus who has the greatest emotional bond with the animal or animals. So what’s the best way to make sure you get the dog or cat in a divorce?

Seek the advice of a qualified family law lawyer as part of your divorce support team. An attorney can fight for pet custody on your behalf as part of a post-nuptial agreement.

Note: Many individuals these days include pet ownership as part of their pre-nuptial agreement to ensure they get “pet custody” if and when a divorce occurs. Consult a family law lawyer for pre-nuptial contracts with a pet clause.