Pet Custody in Divorce

More and more people are finding incompatibility and lack of mutual respect as reasons for divorce. Whatever the causes, a divorce ultimately refers to couples splitting and walking separate ways. A divorce ultimately forces the couples to equitably divide their property and fight the custody battle for their child and sometimes for their pets also. Laws are clearer in case of child custody with custodian rights; visitation orders etc are neatly specified. However, pet custody in a divorce is becoming a significant issue.

Pet Custody like Property Division

Earlier courts looked at the issue of pet custody to be more like the distribution of assets and property which was acquired during the course of marriage. Pets were like assets with no feelings associated with them. Many states follow this procedure even today. What they do is this:

At the outset, courts ask the divorcing couples to decide to whom the pet must go. If the couples fail to arrive at a consensus, then the court intervenes. It attaches monetary value to the pet as it does in property division. Gives financial compensation to one spouse and allows the other spouse to have the pet or the court sells off the pet and divides the money between the two.

The problem with this practice is that the actual value of the pet is not accounted for. Animal Rights Activists argue that pets should not be treated as non-living assets, but should be given their true worth owing to their “companionship value.” Just because pets can not speak, they should not be treated as objects.

Pet Custody akin Chin Custody

With more and more people treating their pets as their own children, pet custody is increasingly being treated like child custody. In fact, judges are more interested to settle the pet custody dispute considering the “best interests of the pets” as their priority.

Thus, the custody of the pet would automatically go the spouse who can provide the most stable environment to the animal and also is the “primary caretaker in custody”. Just like child custody evaluators make recommendations to the judge after evaluating the parent-child relationships using psychological tools, there is a growing body of “animal behavior” specialists who assess and evaluate the relationship of the pet with its masters. They now-a-days recommend (to the court) the spouse who deserves to get the custody, whether joint custody is advisable (as it may stress out the animal) etc.

Pet goes where the child goes

As a result, courts are firm about the fact that in pet custody cases, the pet goes where the child has been asked to go. The reason is simple: children are known to bond well with their pets. Hence, they should not be separated. The custodian parent therefore, is also awarded the responsibility of the pet in such a pet custody case.

Pets to stay together

Courts are also clear that if there are more than one pet, then they should not be separated as a result of the divorce between the spouses. In fact, they need to be kept together to avoid the animals getting stressed out.

Sharing “pet bills”

Though there is a clear specification of child support in child custody cases, the law is not very clear about “pet support”. The general dictum is to have it in the same proportion as the time that has been divided among the ex-spouses as decided by themselves or as directed by the court. If the time sharing with the pet is 50/50 between the spouses, pet support expenses should be 50/50, if it 20/80, the division of expenses should also be 20/80.

Pets are increasingly becoming major concerns in custody battles, no less than child custody in a divorce. However, laws in different states are still changing to give a much humane touch to divorce pet custody.