Divorce consideration: When the family pet is center stage

| May 17, 2012 | Divorce |

Negotiations during a divorce can sometimes bog down over matters relating to child custody and visitation, support issues or asset valuation and division.

Oh, yes, and the dog.

Although disagreement over pet custody or other animal-related matters is not something that frequently brings divorce settlement discussions to a grinding halt, issues relating to a loved family pet do surface with some regularity at such a time. There is no question that pets are deeply loved in millions of American households, and feelings of angst, fear, guilt, separation anxiety and other emotions sometimes rise to the surface during a time that can already be unduly sensitive and emotional.

Pets: People or property?

In the eyes of the law, your pets are considered property. This can be enormously difficult to come to terms with, as many people would consider pets to more like members of the family.

Although pets are generally viewed as property, there are ways to work out a solution to division. One certified mediator with a special focus on helping to forge agreements concerning pets says that she once received a call from an attorney who had carefully worked out a high-asset divorce settlement only to see it threatened at virtually the last minute. The reason: the husband’s stress caused by anxiety that he would lose contact with the animal.

Resolving animal-related issues in court

In some cases, empathetic judges will take into consideration the relationship between each owner and the pet, the pet’s needs and whether sharing the pet is a possibility in order to make an arrangement that more closely resembles a custody plan. More judges are stepping in with opinions and orders, though, and an experienced family law attorney with tact and depth of divorce-related knowledge can often help resolve animal-related issues that feature in a divorce.

Pet owners can also work this out on their own outside of court. Some people offer to give up other assets in order to keep a pet; others can argue that the person who purchased the pet and covers the majority of pet-related expenses should be the one to keep it. It is also possible to work out a plan where both people get time with the animal.

And a mediator, of course, can be found to facilitate a compromise when there is a conflict involving a pet. Some mediators say that a couple simply having a rational discussion, with each hearing the other out, can often bring about a sensible solution regarding a pet. When in doubt, discussing property division involving pets with your attorney can help you explore all the options available and take the steps necessary to protect the things — and loved ones — that are important to you.

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