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The best interests of pets in divorce?

On Behalf of | Aug 26, 2022 | Divorce

Divorce is a life-changing time that creates significant uncertainty for couples. Run-of-the-mill issues become emotionally charged as family members try to navigate a new chapter. Parents struggle with the impact that the split will have on their children.

For many spouses, those “kids” are of the quadruped variety, even if they already have children. Neither side wants to give up quality time with their animals, creating the need for pet custody arrangements.

Not all states account for pet custody

While many states, including New York, New Hampshire, California, Alaska, and Illinois, have recognized the trend with formal custody arrangements, Maryland and DC still consider pets property. However, custody arrangements can be formalized in marital separation agreements.

Since divorce has been an option for unhappy spouses, pets lacked any actual status in divorce proceedings. They were – and still are in some states – in the category of property, similarly to furniture, bank accounts, artwork, collectibles, and other possessions.

Changing dynamics

However, the past ten years have seen significant changes in how pets are viewed as part of a marriage ending. A recent study published by the American Veterinary Medical Association noted that 85 percent of dog owners and 76 percent of cat enthusiasts consider their pets family, a starkly changing dynamic that only adds to the emotional pain of divorce.

As with any negotiations as part of ending a marriage, disputes can arise. Ideally, a resolution should come with a mutual agreement on terms. Without a solution, courts in states without pet laws do not consider the “best interests” of pets. Instead, they review ownership records that include the initial purchase or adoption, licensing, and which spouse is noted on the veterinary records, as well as the payment of the pet’s expenses.

As with any aspect of divorce, finding a middle ground is the best possible option. Without codified laws, many ex-spouses could find themselves without their four-legged loved ones.