Feb 8, 2018

Divorce, Asset Division and Pets

Feb 8, 2018 - Family Law by |

When Couples Divorce, Who Gets the Pets?

Brown and white dog staring into camera

Maryland Family Law Courts and How They View Pets

When two spouses divorce, they have to work out a plan to divide the assets that they own together as well as a financial plan for alimony or spousal support.  Parents of minor children have the additional responsibility of working out custody arrangements and a parenting plan.  A fairly new issue that family law courts are seeing in a growing number of family law cases is how divorcing couples deal with the custody of shared pets.

Pets and Divorce:  Custody Arrangements or Asset Division?

Asset division is based on equitable distribution between the two spouses.  Custody of minor children is based on the best interest of the child.  Where pets had traditionally been seen by the courts as simply an asset, there have been a handful of recent cases where the best interest of the pet has been considered.  Ultimately, pets are considered personal property so Maryland family law will simply give custody of the pet to one spouse or the other.   However, as pets become a more and more contested issue in divorces, we may see the family law courts reconsider.

The Best Interest of the Pet

If one spouse was the owner of the pet BEFORE the marriage, they will almost certainly keep the pet after the divorce.  It also may be considered which spouse takes care of the pet most frequently; who is buying food and supplies and taking care of trips to the veterinarian?  Where the children will live is also often taken into consideration, especially in the situation of a family pet.

Shared Custody of a Pet

It’s more-or-less unprecedented for Maryland family law courts to weigh in when it comes to pets, so it’s important to be ready to be open-minded and work towards a reasonable solution.  Obviously the easiest and cleanest way to resolve the pet issue is to simply decide who will take possession of the pet.  However, there are ways to share time with a pet; the details and arrangements for sharing a pet with an ex-spouse can be included in your final divorce decree.

Is This Really About the Pet?

Divorce proceedings can get emotionally charged and it’s not uncommon for divorcing spouses to fight over items that mean a lot to the other spouse.  Because pet-owners are typically very emotionally invested in their pets, it’s not uncommon for them to become negotiating chips.  This is NOT a cost-effective or timely way to get through your divorce.  While we would make every effort to ensure assets are fairly divided and to protect your interests, I do not advise clients to incur legal fees simply to fight with their ex-spouse.

Facing Divorce with a Pet?  We Can Help.

Going through a divorce is an emotionally trying process; the prospect of losing a pet through process can feel overwhelming.   As your divorce lawyer, I will work with you to create and execute a plan to work towards the best possible outcome in your divorce for you and your pets.  Contact me today to learn more about how I can help.