Divorce tends to focus on children, support, and property division. But increasingly who gets the family pets has become a big litigation issue. Spouses who spend thousands a year on their pets are willing to spend thousands to keep those pets after divorce. Generally, the law has treated pets as property, no different than a dining room table. But as pets have come to occupy a greater place in people’s lives, often to the equivalence of a child, divorcing couples are asking the law to catch up.
Three states – Alaska, Illinois, and California – have statutes that require the family court to treat the division of pets in more of a custody fashion by considering the best interests of pets. This is not unlike what a judge must consider for children including the authority to have a shared custody schedule and payment of pet support.
In Missouri, we have not progressed as far as other states and we continue to treat pets as property under the law. This makes it difficult for spouses with pets because resolving a custody issue over the family pet is far more emotional and difficult to resolve than who gets the sofa or china set. However, spouses can structure into a settlement agreement a custody plan for pets. Spouses should request their attorneys work these matters into the overall settlement early and cover custodial and support issues related to the pets where the courts themselves cannot. Indeed, knowing that the court may simply choose by lot which spouse gets the pet could be enough to encourage spouses to find common ground.
Should you need the advice of a divorce and family law attorney or have questions or concerns about your situation, know that we are here to help and discuss those issues with you.