There is a reason that dogs are referred to as “man’s best friend.” They are intuitive, loving, affectionate and always eager to please. Many Americans feel that same love and affection for their cats (or any other family pet for that matter).
So when a family is separated by divorce, pets often get stuck in the middle. Unfortunately, the situation is further complicated by the fact that there are few laws – if any – governing pet custody. In most states, pets are still considered property and subject to the state’s property division laws.
Obviously, your beloved golden retriever will not be cut in half to satisfy Missouri’s equitable distribution laws. But depending on the situation, a judge may try to determine which spouse is the rightful owner of the dog. They may consider factors such as:
- How and when the pet was acquired
- Which spouse spends more time with the pet
- Which spouse primarily takes care of the pet
- Ensuring that children maintain access to the pet based on the child custody agreement
Specific laws governing pet custody may be introduced in the future, considering that pet custody disputes appear to be on the rise. Earlier this year, the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers surveyed its members on the issue of pet custody. Approximately 27 percent of lawyers surveyed said they have noticed an increase (over the past five years) in cases involving a spousal dispute over custody of the family pet.
Because pet custody laws and guidelines are lacking, there are no guarantees that a judge will give the issue of pet ownership the time and attention you think it deserves. As such, your best bet may be to work toward an agreement negotiated out of court with the help of your family law attorney.