Handling Pet Custody in Divorce

According to research, approximately 50 percent of marriages in the United States end in a divorce. Further, nearly 62 percent of all households in the country have a minimum of one pet. This obviously implies that several couples heading towards divorce might be pet owners. So what is the fate of the pet when a couple decides to split?

The decision is sometimes devoid of any arguments or fight. But according to the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, an increasing number of disputes related to pet custody are now being handled in courtrooms.

More rights for pet animals in California

As far as pets are concerned, the matter is primarily related to ownership. However, more and more judges are now deciding on pet “ownership” based on the interest of the animal. In fact, pet companions are now being treated more like children than animals.

The California Code Section 6320 offers protection to domestic animals if it appears that any of the involved parties might be causing harm or injury to the animal. In fact, a law was passed in California in 2007 for protecting animals against domestic violence. In case of domestic abuse, the law would include pets in the restraining orders. Law enforcement would also require the removal of the animal(s) from any domestic violence scene.

Battling for pet custody

Divorce attorneys in the U.S. report that there is a tendency for couples to become quite vicious during divorce proceedings and they may use the emotional attachment with a pet as a factor to get leverage. Also, custody battles may flare up when there are no kids borne by the couple. This leads to pets becoming the focal point of everyone’s emotions.

Under the U.S. law, pets are usually categorized as personal property and this means that they can be owned and controlled by humans. Certain states, such as California, in the Cities such as San Francisco, have adopted legislation redefining the owner of an animal as a “guardian”.

When a court works under this law (that is, identifies a pet as a property), it only, strictly, has the right to give the pet to any of the two involved parties. In such a case, the law would see allowing visitation of pets or the granting of a shared custody the same as trading of a refrigerator or TV set between the couple on a weekly basis.

In states such as California, mediators are often invited to facilitate communication between the partners so as to arrive at a reasonable solution for pet custody. Ideally, a visitation agreement helps settle pet custody. But if the couple is unable to reach common ground, one of the parties may end up suing the other for pet possession.

A prenup for pet custody

If you want to save yourself from the trouble of dealing with pet custody in case of a potential divorce, it is best to draft a prenup that clearly lays down which partner gets pet ownership in case of separation. This write-up could also include details such as shared expenses for vet visits, boarding, and so on.

How are these types of agreements helpful? Well, they will help reduce a lot of stress in the future, if and when a separation is planned. The judges in the family courts of California would be willing to sign on the majority of the divorce settlements agreed upon by the couple. Divorce attorneys suggest that writing down family pet ownership is the ideal solution to prevent future conflict.

It is important to remember that if there are kids who are emotionally attached to a pet, then the pet should be kept in the same place/household as the kids in case of a divorce.