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How are custody disputes involving pets handled?

On Behalf of | Feb 3, 2021 | Family Law |

While it’s often overlooked, deciding who gets custody of a pet is challenging for divorcing couples. These decisions are very emotionally charged, especially when one spouse wants to move away with the pet and deprive the other of access. 

There are two common legal theories governing pet custody. While the courts usually look at these decisions from a factual perspective, many couples feel they’re closer to custody disputes over children, where both parents deserve equal access. 

Pets are considered property

Most courts in the U.S. consider pets as property, meaning whoever can establish ownership of the pet will get to keep it. Ownership can be established by adoption papers, purchase documents, invoices from the vet’s office, and receipts for the purchase of food and other pet care items. Much like other types of property, courts will make a distinction between shared and community property. 

Some states look beyond ownership to consider the best interests of the animal in question. For example, a judge may be reluctant to let an older pet be taken out of the home she’s familiar with. These standards are more in-tune with the pet’s real value, as opposed to designating it as mere property. 

Divorcing couples can develop a custody agreement

While Connecticut is not one of the states that takes a pet’s best interests into account, couples can still develop shared custody agreements. Some people choose to split custody 50/50, while others might opt to have their pets over the weekend and let their ex have custody during the week. The agreement must also include a legal custody arrangement, which stipulates which owner can make important decisions about the healthcare of the pet. 

Decisions about pet ownership are among the hardest to make during a divorce. If you can find common ground with your ex, you can both enjoy quality time with your pet regardless of your marital status.