Who Keeps Fido or Kitty? What You Need to Know About Pet Custody

Pet and owner resting after a run
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People treat pets like family. At least 90 percent of pet owners, in fact, say that they consider their beloved pooch or kitty to be a member of the family.

Considering that 68 percent of U.S. households are pet owners, it’s no surprise that pet custody is a growing concern in cases involving family law. If you’re going through a divorce and are wondering who gets to keep your furry friend, here are a few things to keep in mind regarding your pets.

The judge will likely treat your pet as property

Judges have no concrete standard in determining pet custody. When it comes to the division of property, they see pets like property and many courts award possession based on ownership rights.

Some courts, however, are beginning to acknowledge that kitty and doggy are special to their owners and that judges should not see them as mere property. They have even started implementing a “best interest” standard for pets like the one they use in child custody cases. They may consider the party that offers the majority of vet visits, basic needs, and social interactions.

While it seems cruel not to take into account the special bond owners have with their pet, using the best-interest approach can be a slippery slope from a legal perspective. The drawback of taking this route is that it will create a complicated custody system similar to what people have with children with animals.

It’s best for your pet to go with the kids

Dog runnig with kids

If a divorce involves children, pets should go with the young ones to establish a sense of continuity for the kids. The idea of separation can be tough on the little ones, and your furry friends can provide a form of security on what will likely be the most challenging times in a child’s life. If you are a pet owner and a parent, think about how your dog or cat helps your young ones cope and how taking your furry friend away can add to the trauma.

Pets can factor into spousal maintenance

Judges generally won’t require an individual to pay “pet support” in divorce since they are likely to treat animals as property. Pets, however, can factor into maintenance indirectly. If the court awards maintenance to one party, pet cost could translate as a living expense and will join the list of needs the court uses to figure out the maintenance amount.

It’s best to arrange pet custody out of court

Instead of leaving the fate of your furry friends at the hands of a judge, it’s best to undergo divorce mediation and come up with an agreement with your spouse regarding your pets. Many judges don’t want to handle arguments concerning pet custody. They have enough important stuff to tackle on their plate. On top of that, they may get annoyed when they have to listen to pet owners squabbling on who gets to see Fido and when.

These are the facts that you should know when it comes to pet custody. If you do end up allowing your spouse to keep your beloved doggy or kitty, remember that you always have the option to adopt another adorable animal in need of a new home.

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