When couples separate an issue arises regarding which spouse will keep the family pet. Often they are able to agree which spouse will keep the dog or cat but sometimes this is not the case and they end up in Court asking the Court to make an Order regarding the residence of their pets.
Pets are considered by the Court to be Family Property and are not dealt with in the same way that a Court would deal with children. For example a Court is unlikely to order parents to have a shared Parenting Agreement for their pets after separation.
As one Judge stated children and pets are different because “we do not weigh the cost/benefit of medical treatment when our children get sick, we do not muzzle our children or even put them to death after they misbehave and we do not sell their offspring.”
The Courts will determine who keeps the family pets just as they will determine who keeps specific household contents and other property. Typically Judges tend to resent being asked to resolve issues regarding pets as they view it a poor use of the Court’s resources.
If spouses want to address this issue during their relationship they can include provisions in their Cohabitation or Marriage Agreement. For example they can state who will get the pets in the event of their separation, whether or not the other spouse will have visitation rights, and who will pay the cost of future care for their pets after a separation.
Deborah A. Todd