Determining how to accommodate your pet’s best interest during and after a divorce is a difficult decision. If your pet’s custody arrangements were not established in a prenup or mutually agreed upon at some point in the marriage, then you and your partner have a big decision to make. While pets are absolutely part of your family, local jurisdictions do not consider them in custody arrangements. Instead, pets are regarded as property that a judge may order to go with one party over another depending on certain circumstances. For example, who owned the pet before marriage? Who financially cared for the pet during marriage? While experts have determined a pet will thrive best in the household they are used to, there are other options to consider that can maintain a pet’s happy state of mind and relationship with all parties, including children.
When considering your pet’s best interest, you and your spouse may choose to split custody. If living circumstances and conditions, such as a large yard and appropriate financial support, are equal among the two parties, you may consider arranging a pet’s split custody schedule in line with the children’s schedule. Although shared responsibility means seeing your former spouse more often, this is a good option for the well-being of both your children and the pet. However, if frequent back and forth between households seems to take a toll on the well-being of the pet there are other ways to accommodate both parties’ time spent with the pet. For example, if it is determined that the household of one party is better suited for the pet long term and that party travels occasionally for work, then it can be arranged for the ex-spouse to be the designated pet sitter.
If an agreement seems impossible to come to, an attorney may be able to assist you and your ex-spouse come to amicable, legally binding terms. If you and your ex-spouse cannot come to an agreement on your own, and one individual believes they should have sole custody of the pet, a judge may need to determine sole custody under the following circumstances:
- Pet adoption/registration papers have one party’s name listed
- Receipts and other records proving sole or most of the financial responsibility for the pet, including food, vet visits, pet insurance, etc.
- Evidence that the party has maintained a healthy lifestyle for the pet such as walking, training, grooming, etc. before divorce was considered
- Proof that the party’s living conditions post-divorce will better suit the pet than the other party’s living conditions (e.g. larger backyard, more time available to spend with the pet, etc.)
While grief and high emotions may ensue, remember to keep the pet’s long-term well-being in mind. Snuggles and love can still be shared. However, like all decision-making in the divorce process, keeping your pet’s best interest in mind during the custody process is the most important consideration.