10th Sep 2014

Approximately 62 percent of American households have at least one pet. When a married couple decides to divorce, what happens to the pets? Many times, the decision does not reach a conclusion without a fight. In some cases, it requires judicial intervention to solve the problem.

According to the reports from the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, pet custody disputes are on the rise. Dogs are the animal disputed most often, while cats are second. Many people consider pets part of the family, which is why custody of pets is a focal point of some divorce cases. In some cases, your ex-spouse may know about your strong emotional connection, so they attempt to use it against you.

How the Law Sees Pets

In the eyes of the law, your pet is considered personal property. For this reason, you can utilize a prenuptial agreement before marriage to ensure your pet remains your property. If it is too late for a prenuptial, consider provisions for your pet in a postnuptial agreement.

What Questions May a Court Consider In Determining Pet Custody?

Who does the pet belong to? When pets belong to either spouse before a marriage, the case becomes much clearer.

Additionally, a court will ask who cares for the pet? Those who buy the pet food and take their pet to the veterinarian have higher chances of succeeding in a court battle.

Where will the children live? When there are children, in many cases, it is best if the pet lives with the kids. Children have a hard enough time with divorce, without losing their pet, as well. With shared custody of the children, the custody of the animal can be shared as well. However, understand that some breeds of animals need a more consistent schedule than others, so it may be necessary to keep a strict schedule.

Who has a life better suited to pet ownership? The final question courts may ask is who can take care of the pet more easily? The person who works long hours and travels often will be less likely to provide a good environment for a pet. A person who truly cares about the well-being of the pet should consider where the pet will be better suited to live.

The Best Interests of the Pet

While the courts may view pets as personal property, an animal has certain requirements. These should be top priority when determining custody. A spouse who repeatedly takes their former wife or husband to court may have deeper underlying issues. In some cases, they are less concerned with the pet and more concerned with controlling their ex. In some cases, pets may become a symbol of power and control in a divorce. They might be seen as the one entity that still loves one party unconditionally.

Legal cases involving a pet carry uncertain outcomes and it can cost thousands of dollars to address. Additionally, divorce litigation may actually affect a pet. Signs of pet stress may include:

  • – Worsening appetite
  • – Change from energetic to low energy
  • – Not interested in walks or other daily activities
  • – Start to whimper or cry

Considered a Business Asset in Some Situations

For people who breed their pets to sell, they might be considered a business asset. Because pets are considered property, owners can take the same steps as they would to protect property. The difference between the profits from a sold house or car is that pets cannot be split in two.

Stress the Importance of Your Pets

When it comes to pets, some attorneys do not see them as a priority while negotiating the terms of a divorce. Stressing this ahead of time ensures the attorney works to keep your pet.

Why is the Outcome Unpredictable in Court?

The court’s decision of custody is risky because there are not specific and updated laws to address the issue of animals in a divorce. Because animals are seen as property in court, the laws are designed to protect the benefit of the owner. It is different for children where the laws were designed to protect the interests of the children. With pet custody, an outcome can be difficult to predict. In the majority of cases, courts see shared custody of a pet as similar to shared custody of a television from week to week.

Is This View Changing?

Because pets have become such an integral part of many people’s lives, some courts treat pets more like children. For example, certain courts have awarded visitation rights, shared custody and alimony payments. When courts are not willing to go this far, the couple can design a contract between each other. Splitting pets in many American homes has become contentious, so Tennessee law may very well address this issue in the future.

Pets: the Casualties of Divorce

The sixth most common reason pets are voluntarily surrendered to the Tennessee SPCA shelter is because of divorce. This comes after foreclosures, the death of pet owners and financial hardship. However, the statistics only include animals that were knowingly surrendered due to a divorce. It does not, however, include the animals that were abandoned as strays due to a divorce. In the worst divorce cases, a spouse will sometimes use the other spouse’s emotional attachment to a pet as power to get them to surrender their right to other property or rights. Although it might seem unnecessary at the time, prenuptial agreements can prevent bitter arguments and hurt feelings later. It protects everyone involved, including the pet you are adopting.

According to a poll conducted by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, of 1,500 members surveyed, almost a quarter said they saw increases in pet custody cases. In such cases, a judge has to decide who gets the pet and whether the other spouse has a right to see the pet after the divorce.