Pet Custody Is Serious Business in Modern Day Divorce Cases

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( — December 27, 2018) — According to reports by the American Psychological Association, approximately 40-50% of U.S. couples get divorced, and among couples who are on their second or third marriage the divorce rates are much higher. With uncoupling being so prevalent, divorce settlements play an increasingly important role in the lives of many adults, affecting their relationship with their finances, their children and even their pets. The question of who gets the pet is becoming a key issue in many couples’ divorce settlements.

Pet custody was not a hot button issue in earlier times, because it is only in more recent years that many Americans have made their pets an actual and almost equal part of the family – for some, practically on the same level as their children. If the average dog owner spends more than $1,000 a year on expenses such as food and vet bills, imagine how much money a devout pet owner spends on extra costs such as pet day care, salon treatments, and birthday parties in addition to lavish treats, toys, beds, blankets and so on. In 2018, Americans are estimated to have spent over 72 billion dollars on their pets in the past year alone. That figure has almost doubled in the last decade, and predictions for 2019 are that pet owners will spend even more.

Historically, pets that were shared by divorcing couples were treated in the same way that other types of personal and real property were treated. If a pet was jointly aquired during the marriage, then it was considered to be subject to the property division. A pet that was owned before the marriage by one party was considered to belong to that spouse. 

However, new laws that have come into effect since 2017 in states such as Illinois, Alaska and California have empowered judges to consider the well-being of the animal. According to the Law Offices of Roger W. Stelk, instead of viewing pets as another piece of property to be divided, judges are now allowed to decide pet custody in much the same way that they decide custody of children, by considering what is in the pets’ best interests.  

Under the new laws, couples who are getting divorced and who disagree about which spouse will get to keep the pet will be able to present evidence to the court explaining why they are a better owner and caretaker of the pet. If shared custody is not awarded and one spouse is to become the main caregiver, the other spouse may request to receive visitation time with the pet. Service animals are exempt from the new law.