Kathleen J. Smith, Attorney at Law
Over 20 Years Of Legal Experience
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Is your pet family, property or pawn?

If you are like more than one third of homes in the United States, you have at least one pet. Animals provide companionship and unconditional affection, and they often form special bonds with certain people quite unexpectedly. Some research indicates that having a pet can have a positive effect on your physical and mental health by lowering your blood pressure and relieving anxiety.

Your faithful dog or cat may be the only one who is always there when you are having a bad day, especially when those bad days seem to be leading toward your divorce. While you may feel overwhelmed with the thought of property division and child custody issues, another important consideration will be the fate of your beloved pets.

Factors to consider

Only a few states have laws regarding the custody of pets. In California, state law considers pets property, which is why it is important for you and your spouse to come to an agreement about what to do with the pets after your divorce. Unfortunately, 10 percent of dogs relinquished to the ASPCA come from families going through a major change such as a divorce. Not only can this be painful for you and your children, it may be just as painful for your four-legged friend.

Many factors may play into the decision about who gets to keep the pet, including:

  • Which of you has the most affection for the pet
  • Which of you the animal is most attached to
  • Which of you provided the most practical care for the animal
  • Which of you is financially able to support the pet after the divorce
  • Your living arrangements after the divorce
  • Custody orders for the children

There is the option of allowing the pet to travel with the children as they move between you and your spouse for scheduled custody. Having a familiar pet with them when things are new and confusing can provide a wonderful element of stability and security for the children. However, if your pet is elderly or easily stressed by travel, this may not be the best idea.

One problem some pet owners encounter is having one spouse demand ownership of a pet simply because of the other spouse's special attachment to the animal. Using the pet in this way is unfair, and if you are hoping to keep your beloved pet, your attorney should know in order to negotiate for this in your divorce settlement.

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