More than half of all couples in the US have a pet, according to various studies. While cats and dogs are the most common, everything from rabbits and hamsters to horses and iguanas can be found in people’s homes. Many couples view their pets as another family member. The court, however, may see them as property to be divided in a divorce. If you have a beloved family pet that will be a part of your divorce, here’s what you need to consider.
Personal Property in a Divorce
When pets become part of personal property in a divorce, they receive a value that is based on the fair market value for that animal. This can be based on the price the animal’s littermates would sell for. It can also be determined by how much one spouse would have to pay to replace the pet.
In addition, the pedigree of the animal can determine its monetary value. When pets have little to no economic value, it’s often the spouse that offers the most to keep the animal that gets it. Unfortunately, this approach can make the court look harsh and cold-hearted to everyone involved.
If your pet is related to a family business, such as horses on a farm, this situation can get more complex. In this case, it’s best to have an attorney involved, as your livelihood can also be at stake. When animals are part of assets, the division moves past emotions and into financial territory, and the decisions made here will impact your financial future for years to come.
Some judges are now starting to look beyond a pet’s monetary value and at the animal’s needs instead. This can lead to a judge deciding that the animal should stay in the family home, especially if the animal has an illness or other medical condition and has been cared for primarily by one spouse.
If there are children involved, the court may consider the impact of separating the pet from the kids during a time when stability is the goal. In this case, they may rule that the pet should stay with the parent who is going to be the primary caregiver. This provides more emotional stability for the children and may be viewed as being in the children’s best interests, which the court will always move to protect.
Where Your Pet “Belongs”
Ideally, the animal should go to the person who has the means to care for it if there are no children involved who will be affected by this decision. If, for example, your spouse is unlikely to be able to afford food, vet visits and other expenses related to the animal, you can make the argument that the pet is better off in your home, where it will receive the care that it needs. You can also consider a split arrangement, where you and your spouse agree to time-sharing of the animal and a division of costs associated with it, but this should be detailed in writing as part of your final divorce documents. Otherwise, you will have no way to enforce the final agreement.
Speak to an Attorney
Contact a family law attorney about your divorce if you have not already done so in your case. When you are divorcing with a pet involved, it can become as emotionally complicated as a case involving children, depending on your level of attachment to the animal. Instead of dragging out the divorce process by fighting over the pet, your attorney will work to create an arrangement that will protect the pet and result in a resolution both of you can live with.