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Hoge Partners, PLLC

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Pet Custody in a Divorce

More and more of us consider pets an important part of our lives and our families.  For some, pets are considered as highly as children and people worry about what will happen to Spot, Fido or Fluffy if they get a divorce.

It's important for you to recognize that the courts do not usually hold pets in the same high regard as do pet owners.  Under the strict interpretation of the law, a pet is nothing more than personal property with a value of nothing more than what you could sell the pet for at a flea market, yard sale or auction.  The law has not changed in Kentucky but the judicial mindset is opening up somewhat as more and more judges recognize that pets are more than just pieces of furniture or decorative accessories in a household.

The court is not going to entertain the notion of "shared custody" of a pet any more than it would endorse divorced spouses sharing possession of a microwave or toaster.

BUT, through negotiation, mediation, collaboration and even cooperation, divorce parties can agree on a creative settlement that will take into account the sentimental attachment each party has (or doesn't have) for a pet.

What should a shared pet custody arrangement include?  Agreements on routine time sharing, vacation and holiday schedules, travel arrangements, doggie daycare, boarding, food, treats, grooming, vet care, moving and end-of-life decisions. Another factor is the division of costs.

USA Today newspaper reported on 02/29/2012 that pet custody cases are on the rise, citing a 6-year-old study by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) recognizing that such disputes had increasing significantly between 2001 and 2006.  We suspect that the numbers have increased even more over the past few years.

Very often, if the parties can agree, the court will direct that the family pet(s) will stay with the children.  But what about situations where the pets are the "children"?

Santa Monica attorney David Pisarra has even co-authored a book on "co-parenting" a pet!  What About Wally? Co-Parenting a Pet with your Ex" is available on Amazon.com.

All too often, pets are dropped off at the shelter because the owners are getting a divorce.  Please consider working out a creative arrangement or making compromises to keep another animal from being placed at risk in a shelter because he's lost his home through no fault of his own.

And, remember, if you obtained your pet from a rescue or pet adoption agency, the placement contract you signed may very well include provisions about what needs to happen with the animal in the event neither of you can keep him.  Generally, this involves surrendering the pet to the agency for re-homing.

Finally, in the event that domestic violence arises in your marriage or during your divorce, it might become necessary to make arrangements to get your pet or pets into safekeeping to protect them from harm at the hands of an abuser or to prevent an abuser from threatening a pet in order to intimidate a family member.  If you are in such a situation, find a family member or friend who can keep your pets for a while to keep them out of a potentially dangerous situation.


Return to our main Custody & Visitation page to learn more about child custody, visitation and parenting schedules