Some parts of the divorce process are almost always emotionally fraught. Child custody, for instance, tends to be one of the most stressful aspects of divorce for most couples, especially when each parent wants primary or sole custody.
It is obvious why custody issues are addressed separately from, say, property division. But what about determining the fate of the family pets? Unfortunately, because pets are considered property and not members of the family (as they are often treated), there are no consistent legal mechanisms for determining “pet custody.”
Many Americans consider their dogs and cats to be like their children. So when couples get divorced, it can be difficult to decide which spouse takes ownership of old Rover. Although a few judges have agreed to hear arguments related to pet custody, these are the exception rather than the rule. There are no pet custody laws to speak of, and most courts will treat pets as the law treats them: As property.
If you are a pet owner going through divorce, the safest way to resolve custody disputes may be through negotiation outside the courtroom. If pet custody is an important issue to you and your spouse, your attorneys may agree to help negotiate shared custody. If the matter is addressed in court (as part of property division), your attorney could help you prepare arguments for why the pet rightfully belongs to you and not to your spouse.
There may come a time when pet custody is recognized as a legal issue (almost) on par with child custody. Until or unless that happens, however, you may need to advocate for an out-of-court resolution.