Family pets present an unusual problem in the matter of a divorce. While their owners often treat them as family, the courts do not view them in the same light. Instead, these furry, feathered, or scaled friends, loved as they are, do not rise to the level of family member. That’s despite the fact that married couples practically consider their pets as children in many situations, particularly when they have no kids of their own.
The division of assets and the determination as to which spouse gets custody of the children are among the central parts of the divorce process. But to many people, another major part deals with animals. There are many couples with family pets that have great difficulty deciding who gets the custody of their treasured animals.
Colorado law is clear: pets are not regarded as children – irrespective of how attached owners may be. They are instead considered as personal property, another asset, which means they are governed by the law of equitable distribution of assets. Unfortunately, deciding who gets the dog or cat after a divorce is not usually as straightforward as dividing up the furniture or deciding who gets the big screen TV.
While there are strict guidelines in place for dealing with matters related to child custody in Colorado, this is not the case when deciding which spouse gets custody of the pets. Since there is no legal governance in such situations, a pet custody dispute can proceed in many different directions.
Under most pet custody circumstances, a judge will probably ask you and your spouse to decide the matter among yourselves, or otherwise find another home for the pet if an agreement between yourselves cannot be reached.
There are some judges, however, who may intervene. They may use their authority when it comes to pet custody, by taking into mind the best interests of the pet. This action is likened to a child custody case, where several elements present themselves when determining which party should keep the pet. These factors include who purchased the animal, which living arrangement is best for the pet (will it be in an apartment or a house?), who can spend more quality time with the pet and who can afford to care for and house the pet. Other considerations may include who currently pays for most of the animal’s veterinary bills, and who is most often charged with daily tasks such as feeding, exercising, and grooming.
If you’re after custody of the family pet but aren’t the one who initially purchased the pet, don’t despair just yet. If you can show that you are the primary caretaker of the animal and that you spend more money on the animal’s health care, then you may be able to win custody. Collect receipts of visits to the vet, and even consider getting eyewitnesses who can affirm that you walk your dog several times a day or regularly take it to the vet.
Couples may be able to prevent potential pet custody disputes by discussing pet ownership issues prior to marriage and putting this agreement in writing. They may even choose to include all pet-related decisions in a prenuptial agreement. This may include details on which spouse gets primary custody of the pet in case of a divorce, which party will take care of pet-related expenses, and even visitation time with the other spouse.
If you are currently involved in a divorce and are facing a pet custody issue with your spouse, it is important to focus on what would be best for your pets. Like children, pets should never be used to hurt or manipulate the other party.