Emotions often run high when a couple divorces. While the couple is disentangling their lives and shared history, a valued family pet may get enmeshed in the process. Ownership of a pet is most often decided much in the way ownership of other property, like furniture, is decided. However, in a growing number of cities such as San Francisco, pets are considered to be under guardianship, and are therefore subject to a shared custody agreement. Whether a pet should be shared in divorce cases is under active discussion in many courts around the country. This tension has led to the birth of a new area of divorce law called companion animal custody.
Factors a judge might consider while deciding on pet custody include:
The age of the animal - It may not be advisable to uproot an elderly dog and require it to adjust to a new home.
The animal's ability to travel - An animal may not be fit to endure a lengthy plane ride if one spouse is relocating.
Breed-specific bans - One spouse may be relocating to a district that bans private ownership of certain breeds, deemed "attack" dogs.
Domestic violence - Courts tend not to allow a pet to remain alone in a home with an abuser or violent partner.
Children - If there are children in the family and the animal is a family pet, the pet might fare better if it lives with the children.
Ultimately, as with children, the pet should enjoy the consideration of both partners. If both care about the pet, they should give it a stable, loving and appropriate home regardless of the state of the marriage. Should the pet be considered a ward and not a possession, the court is likely to give put the best interest of the pet over the desire of the guardian. As this area of law develops, divorce attorneys increasingly encourage couples to negotiate the terms of pet custody outside of court.
To learn more about this and other custody issues, contact the San Diego Law Office of Steven M. Bishop for assistance.