According to the American Pet Products Association’s 2021-2022 survey, 70% of U.S Households own a pet. And by “pets”, they’re not just talking about dogs – it’s cats, fish, birds, reptiles, horses, and other small animals. Seventy percent isn’t surprising – this topic is coming up more and more in discussions with divorcing clients. And yes, discussions about who gets the pet can get very heated and complicated.
Pets are considered, by the court, the same type of line item as a couch or other piece of furniture.
If a couple cannot come to an agreement about their pet and take the matter to court, the judge will treat the pet as a piece of property
Many people see their pets as much more than a piece of furniture. Some consider their pets to be their children or members of their family.
Gabrielle’s Take: Since the court isn’t interested in the needs of your animal, if your pet is something you want to be greatly considered in your divorce, you’re better off going through mediation or collaborative divorce.
What should you consider if you and your ex will not be sharing the pet?
Who paid for the pet initially?
Was the pet purchased/adopted before the marriage? Who brought it?
Who has been the primary caregiver?
Which party has a stronger relationship with the pet (more bonded with the pet)?
Is the spouse keeping the pet moving into a new home? Is it pet-friendly?
Is visitation by the other spouse allowed? Are you comfortable allowing your ex into your house or vice versa? According to Gabrielle, you should consider the following:
Agree to visits ahead of time
Do not give your ex open access to your home.
What should you consider if you want to continue to co-own a pet? What does shared pet custody mean? Much like with children, you need to consider:
How will the pet’s expenses be shared? Such as veterinary expenses, license expenses, food expenses, and other care expenses.
What is entailed in shared medical-decision making for a pet? Spouses should discuss what would happen in the event one spouse wants to put the pet to sleep and the other disagrees and when to involve the court.
In a shared pet situation, what happens in the event that one spouse wants to take a vacation? Does the other spouse have the right to be offered to care for the pet before making kennel or pet care arrangements (first refusal in child custody)? Are the pet care expenses shared?
If the pet moves with the children between the homes, what happens when there are no longer any children at home? Should a provision be written into the agreement to move to mediation if the spouses can’t agree?
Gabrielle has spent the last 20 years as a divorce attorney and mediator, with her special ability to resolve unsolvable conflict. She currently practices in New York and Massachusetts, where she can serve clients both as a mediator and litigator. Her first book, Better Apart; The Radically POisitive Way to Separate, was published in 2019. Her upcoming second book is based on her TEDx and titled The Secret to Getting Along is Easier Than You Think. Both books are designed to bring you actionable tips to help you productively navigate conflict. You can learn more about Gabrielle on her website, GabrielleHartley.com.
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