Who Gets Custody of the Pets?

How to Survive Your Divorce with Your Pet Family Intact

The dissolution of a marriage is always sad as it indicates that the hopes the couple began their relationship with didn’t pan out. Many times, divorce is contentious. Some couples become so adversarial in their relationship that hurting the other becomes the primary goal. Anything the other loves, children and pets included, is apt to become a potential tool in the arsenal of this unhappy scenario.

Fortunately, the one thing most couples can agree on is that they love their pets and want what is best for them. However, when two people are unable to come to an amicable agreement, it is often necessary to involve a divorce attorney in Cullman.

How Pet Custody Differs from Child Custody

Pets are not people. Many people, perhaps even the majority, consider their pets family members. Childless couples often elevate the status of the pets in their family to that of children. Even though people routinely invest themselves in the lives and well-being of their pets as if they were children, they are not considered children in the eyes of the law.

The judicial system views all animals, including pets, as property without rights. The laws that attend child custody in the courtroom are not the same laws that govern where your pets go to live after you are divorced. For this reason alone, it is wise for couples to decide what is best for their pets equitably, together, when possible, outside of court.

Questions Often Asked at Court

When a case involving decisions regarding pet custody lands on a judge’s docket, specific questions are apt to be asked concerning the pets involved. These questions will seek to establish original ownership of the pets. Did you acquire them as a couple, or did you bring them to the marriage? As property, this shows prior ownership. Who spends the most time with the pets? Who pays for their support? Careful questioning often reveals who has the most significant vested interest in the pets’ lives.

The judge will consider things such as time available to devote to the pets’ needs, financial stability, the presence of a suitable environment, such as a fenced yard, experience in providing the pets’ care, and more. Sometimes the judge has specific questions when the case before them itself poses a unique circumstance. In some cases, the animals’ financial value may be a factor in their distribution.

Communication is Key to Finding a Solution

Pets have no power to decide their fate when their owners separate. A pet’s best option when its owners are divorcing is for the couple to be willing to work together to provide what is best for their pets. There is no “one size fits all” option that suits everyone all the time, far from it. Just as each person is unique, so is each relationship, and what works for one couple will not necessarily be appropriate for another.

If you can come up with an agreement without involving the courts, do. Consult with a local attorney to draw up your contract and have it notarized if this level of formality is required between the two of you to settle your joint pets’ permanent care. There is no guarantee you will be happy with the court’s solution.

Prenuptial Agreement 

A prenuptial agreement is a type of contract that an engaged couple signs before they marry that determines financial and property disbursement should they ever decide to divorce. It is similar to estate planning in that it determines what happens after the fact, ahead of time. Prenups only apply when two people decide to activate it by getting divorced.

A prenup is an excellent way of determining beforehand what you will do in a particular circumstance. It allows you to decide what to do with any pets you acquire during your marriage. Determining these things at the start of your relationship helps ensure that any eventual dissolution proceeds in an orderly fashion.

One or the Other

One person or the other must take responsibility for the couple’s pets, except in cases where there is more than one pet, and the decision is made to divide them. The solution is evident when one person is willing and able to do so, and the other is uninterested. Problems that arise tend to occur when both parties desire to keep the animals. At this point, concerning animals you acquired together often comes down to who has the most to offer the pets.

While dogs are not considered in the same light as children by the courts, many judges will nevertheless award ownership of pets in the family in conjunction with custody of children. Experts believe that children’s emotional attachment to their pets is healthy and aids them in making a healthy transition to their new lifestyle.

Joint Custody

Couples for whom it works often conclude that joint custody gives them the best of both worlds. They work out a schedule that works for their circumstances, for example, one to two months, followed by an equal period without the pets. This allows the pets to have two homes where they feel comfortable and where everything is familiar.

Pets benefit when couples work together to give them a joint custody option. By sharing custody, each person gets a break from pet responsibilities that they can use to further the non-pet areas of their lives as they see fit. Many people sharing joint pet custody arrange their out-of-town travels for times when they do not have pet parenting duties.

Divorce is difficult in the best of cases, but despite any hard feelings the couple might harbor for one another, they should both be aware that life is suddenly, inexplicably altered for their pets. Because pets lack the language to communicate concepts like divorce, making sure any transitions occur smoothly for the pets’ sake is vital. Pet parents must work together to make sure their pets continue to feel safe and loved.