It is impossible to quantify how much pets mean to their owners. Most often, pets are members of the family, cared for and loved like children. So, naturally, things can get a bit rough when you are deciding on a plan for pet custody.
Here is what you need to know about pets and divorce:
1. Pets are property, not people
Your pets, as much as they are members of your family, are seen as property by the Washington courts. This varies from state to state, but categorizing them as property is the most common. This means during your divorce, they’ll be put in the “assets” category. If you bought the pet before you were married, it is yours. If you got the pet during your marriage, it is considered a “community asset”. That means, by default, both parties have a right to it. If you leave the decision up to a judge, they will be looking at who is most responsible for the care of the pet, or “maintenance of the asset.” This is especially true for high-value pets, such as horses or livestock.
2. If you have got kids, pet custody goes with them
Keeping the pet with the kids will be an obvious solution for a judge. This is usually the default ruling in instances where couples cannot decide who gets the pet. It makes sense. If you have kids, your divorce is going to be hard for them. It would be even harder if they lost their best animal friend. If you are not the primary caregiver, your kids can bring the dog with them during visitation (this can be harder to pull off with a cat, bird, or exotic animal, not for legal reasons, but because these pets often do not travel well).
3. The more invested party gets the pet custody
It is all about “maintenance of the asset,” which basically boils down to, “How much time and money have you put into your pet?” Keep records of the purchases you make for your pet: food, vet bills, trips to obedience school, etc. Your housing situation can also be critical. Do you have a yard for your dog to run in, or a stable near a large open space for horses? For cats, housing will not be as important. In order to be awarded the pet in court, you have to prove you’re the most invested party. Do not forget to make sure your attorney knows that keeping the pet is a top priority.
4. Visitation, or splitting custody of the pet, is totally possible
Patrick, a local Washington resident, splits the care of his English Boxer, Ronan, with his ex-wife. They decided to do this on their own, without getting the courts involved. According to Patrick, this arrangement works out great, and it was a lot cheaper than filing legal papers. Ronan was 8 weeks old when they got him, and two years old when they divorced. Fiona, his ex-wife, stayed in their former rural home, which she owned. There was a huge yard for Ronan, and Fiona was often home for work. Patrick moved into an urban area and was working in an office.
“It was an easy decision,” says Patrick. “I get Ronan for a weekend or a week about once a month,” mostly when Fiona is traveling, which she does frequently.
If you can’t work it out with your spouse, documents for a split-parenting plan can be drafted. Typically, they are not legally binding, but they signify an agreement between both parties. In more extreme situations, such as in instances of abuse, investigators can be hired, or a guardian ad litem can be appointed for your pet.
5. Pets might just be the one thing you agree about
Deciding what happens with your pet is often easy, as long as you’re keeping the pet’s best interest in mind. Maybe you work from home and can spend more time with the animal. Or maybe your spouse has a more active lifestyle that better suits your pet. Whatever the case, make sure to keep the well-being of your pet at the forefront of your decision. Ask yourself, “What’s best for them?” You might find it’s the one thing you and your spouse can easily agree about.
Call Divorce Lawyers For Men
If you are getting divorced or separated, and you need to divide your assets, give Divorce Lawyers for Men in Tacoma a call. Our attorneys are experienced in getting our clients the items that mean the most to them.