Pets together outside

Pet Custody and Divorce

Most pet owners agree that pets become more than just a four-legged companion; they are family. In most cases, both spouses are just as attached to the pet, so determining who gets to keep the pet in a divorce case can be a bit complex. In January 2017, Alaska became the first American state to enact custody legislation specifically for pets, allowing courts to take an animal’s well-being into account during divorce proceedings. Many states have recently followed suit by becoming involved with pet custody by deciding to treat pets more like children than property. Arkansas, however, still considers pets as property. In all actuality, the court could order the pet sold and the couple to split the profits. It is not likely to happen as that would be the last thing the courts would want to do, but if the divorcing couple cannot come to an agreement, then it is very real outcome. When in the middle of a divorce, remember possession is 90% of the fight. If you decide to waive you’re possessory or ownership interest to the animal because you think it is the easiest thing to do at the time, you should reconsider. When another person takes possession of the pet, it is much more difficult to regain and win rightful possession and control through the court system. Additionally, in order to assure your four-legged friend does not suffer the consequences of a bad divorce, it is advisable to have a pet custody agreement in place.

A pet custody agreement will have many similarities to a child custody agreement:

  • A visitation schedule
  • Division of costs (veterinary care, food, and other daily necessary items)
  • The pet’s primary care giver/owner - who will take care of the pet the majority of the time and whom does the pet live with most of the time
  • Details about the pet that include vaccination schedules, date of the last veterinary visit, medication the pet is taking, and any other details concerning the pet’s well-being

Pet custody is often overlooked when couples decide to divorce, as there are many other details for the couple to consider like child custody, the division of assets, spousal support and so on. Although it is often overlooked, sadly, the pet can become a way for a spouse to gain leverage by using their spouse’s emotional attachment to their pet. An even more disturbing situation is when a divorcing parent uses  their own child’s attachment to a pet to add an advantage to win their case.

When developing a case for which person is the best caregiver, things like who has the means, space and time to devote to the pet. A child’s attachment will also be considered in these types of cases. If a child is attached to a pet, the court will often allow the pet to stay with the child resulting in the pet living with the child’s primary caregiver. A spouse that never partook of feeding, walking or caring for a pet will have a much harder time proving a case as to why they are suddenly interested in the pet.

Also, you should be prepared if the case does end up in court, it is possible the spouse not awarded the pet will be awarded the “cash value” of the pet. As inhumane as this may seem, it is the court’s only way of equitable distribution when dividing property since a pet is still considered “property” in Arkansas.

Pet custody is a part of family law, just like a child custody agreement.  Kevin Hickey Law Partners’ expertise will not only help you with your divorce and child custody case, we will be happy to help you with your pet custody case.  We will be happy to assist you in developing a pet custody agreement that is right for you. If you are in the middle of a pet custody battle and it is too late to develop a pet agreement, Kevin Hickey Law Partners will be happy to help you prepare a case to support why you are the best caregiver for the pet.