According to a recent survey by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, there has been an increase in the number of pet custody cases in America over the past several years. This may come as something of a surprise to many of our Maryland readers, who may have never heard of pet custody before.
That’s because pets are not, legally speaking, people. They cannot be fought over as part of a child custody hearing; rather, they are treated as property and subject to allocation as part of the property division process.
Many pet owners, however, find this objectionable. Often, both spouses feel very strongly for their pets and want to retain ownership. In these cases, ownership of the animal is often contested in court, as both sides attempt to convince the judge that their ownership would be in the pet’s best interests. Some spouses have even brought in animal experts to serve as expert witnesses, all in an attempt to prove that they would be the better long-term pet owner.
Some judges have become more indulgent of pet custody in recent years. Some settlements have included child custody-like agreements, such as visitation schedules, shared custody and financial support.
Ultimately, the pet will likely go to the spouse who will be best suited to care for it. Spouses who have shown a history of caring for the pet in the past will be more likely to retain the animal in the future. Also, parents who maintain custody of their children may be more likely to keep the pet as well, if the children are emotionally attached to the pet. This move helps to prevent stress and anxiety in the children during and after the divorce.
The Huffington Post, “Who Gets the Family Dog After Divorce?” Nancy Kay, Nov. 10, 2013