Children aren’t the only ones who can get caught up in a divorced couple’s custody dispute. In fact, fights over who will get to keep the family pets can be equally contentious. Research has shown that roughly 50% of marriages end in divorce and that 62% of American homes have at least one pet in them. It’s easy to see that many of these divorced couples are likely to own a pet. But what happens to the pet when a couple decides to divorce?
According to the law, pets are considered to be personal property. As the director of litigation for the Animal Legal Defense Fund says, “In the eyes of the law, they are really no different than the silverware, the cars, and the home.” Courts that strictly operate under this distinction tend to award pets to one owner or the other.
However, because pets are increasingly becoming a bigger part of our lives, some courts have begun to treat pets similar to children in a divorce. This shift is due in part to state lawmakers and advocacy groups who have promoted the idea that the legal system should act in the best interests of the animals. In fact, some courts have awarded shared custody, visitation, and alimony payments to pet owners. Close to fifteen years ago, states began to allow people to leave their estates or trusts to care for their pets after they have passed away.
According to a 2014 survey conducted by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, there has been a 27% increase in pet-custody cases over the past five years. 20% of the survey’s respondents cited an increase in cases where judges deemed the pets as an asset. With Alaska becoming the first state to sign pet-custody legislation, hopefully others will soon follow as well.
Do you have more questions about pets and divorce? Contact our team of Des Moines divorce attorneys to learn how we can assist you today.