If you don’t have a pet, you might not understand how important and difficult this question can be but if you have ever felt the special bond between a person and a pet, you can imagine how custody issues of pets can be difficult in a divorce. When spouses with children divorce, the court determines whether the parents will have joint custody or if one parent will have sole custody. Courts also provide parenting time schedules for children so both parents have parenting time with the children.
The overriding factor in custody and parenting time decisions is the best interests of the child…not the best interests of the parents. Focusing on the best interests of the child makes custody decisions easier for parents and courts alike because there is enough research on what is best for children in many different situations. If the court were to treat pets like children, they would have to determine what is in the best interests of the pet and that is not something courts are likely to do because court resources are in high demand for more pressing matters. As far as the best interests of the pet, pets are generally fine as long as they have food, water, shelter, perhaps a walk, and someone to give them attention.
Just as not all parents are married, not all pet owners are married either. Roommates, partners, friends, and family might get a pet together and when they go their separate ways, the pet owners may not agree on who should have custody of the pet. For all these situations, courts do not have a process by law to award custody. Some individual courts have made rulings for custody of pets but generally speaking those decisions were left up to the court’s discretion and were not really based in state law.
Pets Are Property
Interestingly, pets are considered property by law so they are treated like property in a divorce. Property includes real property (a house) as well as items such as furniture, electronics, and jewelry. When dividing property, spouses generally each receive property of equal value. One spouse might get the big screen TV while the other spouse might get the china and glassware which has the same value as the TV. How do you put a dollar value on the family pet?
While courts will not typically decide issues regarding pets (there really aren’t any laws for courts to follow regarding pets in divorce) individuals can stipulate their own agreement in regard to family pets. Families with children sometimes decide that the pet should be where the children are. In those cases, the pet follows the same parenting time schedule that the children follow. In some cases, just like property, one spouse might negotiate a deal where he keeps the pet and he offers other types of property in exchange for the pet.
Are You A Dog Lover?
In a survey by the APPA National Pet Owners Survey 62% of households in the United States owned a pet (72.9 million homes). The health benefits of owning a pet are well-documented as pets provide security, companionship, a reason to exercise, and can even lower a person’s blood pressure simply by their presence. People form very special bonds with their pets and particularly in divorce cases where there are no children; the pet can be one of the most valued relationships the divorcing individuals have.
For further information or to schedule a consultation, please contact California Divorce Mediators at (949) 553-0911 or at www.cadivorcemediators.com.