Custody battles are not just about children. According to the National Pet Owners Survey, 71.1 million American households include at least one cat or dog — and that creates problems when couples divorce. In fact, a surprising number of people are much more willing to part with an ex-spouse than with their beloved pets. “The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers conducted a poll of 1,500 members and nearly a quarter said they had noticed an increase in custody issues of pets. Judges have had to determine not only who gets the dog but whether one party has the right even to see the dog after the marriage breaks up,” The Huffington Post reports.
Will You Get Fluffy? How Courts Decide
If advice from an uncontested divorce lawyer is not enough, courts will make determinations about pet custody for you. For now, these determinations constitute a legal gray area. Some courts, including Florida’s First District Court of Appeals, treat pets like assets or possessions. “Determinations as to custody and visitation lead to continuing enforcement and supervision problems. … Our courts are overwhelmed with the supervision of custody, visitation, and support matters related to the … protection of our children. We cannot undertake the same responsibility as to animals,” a 1995 ruling from the Florida court stated.
Others take common appeals — asking courts to approach pets more like children — to heart. These family law specialists may consider how much time each party spends with the pet, who is responsible for a cat or dog’s veterinary care, and who feeds the pet and changes its litter box.
Custody Battles Over Pets May Run Deeper
When couples set out to find a family lawyer, they should try to work out where their priorities lie. Even the best collaborative family lawyers may tire of pet custody battles if parties vie for custody or visitation out of spite. Careful consider your reasons before instigating a pet custody battle.
For many, pets are part of the family. Divorced couples may be able to work out an agreement similar to child custody arrangements. Other courts will grant pets to the party who brought the dog or cat into the marriage. Continue reading here.