Many people are unaware that many vicious custody battles involve pet custody arrangements. The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, have seen a 23 percent jump in pet custody cases. Additionally, Harvard Law School even has a course teaching animal law. In most jurisdictions, pets are generally considered property, but many states have come to recognize that both parties in a divorce may have a significant relationship with their companion animal; therefore, courts are willing to entertain the idea of a custody arrangement for pets since they are not easily replaceable.
If you are gearing up for one or are in the middle of a pet custody battle, we have some tips that can help you come out on top.
- Buyers keepers- Since pets are seen as property in the eyes of the law, the person who paid for the pet sometimes has a better chance of keeping it. For instance, the person who covered the pets’ medical costs, food expenses and other commonly associated expenses for the pet.
- Care matters-Despite the fact that you didn’t pay for the dog, courts will also look at who cares for the pet. Similar to a child custody case, judges want to make sure your dog will go to a person who will keep him/her healthy and happy. Evidence of walking the dog, taking him/her to vet appointments, and generally spending time together all work in your favor.
- Ownership during proceeding- The person who is keeping the pet during proceedings can have an edge when it comes to a custody battle. It’s another example to the judge that you are the primary caregiver for the pet. If you want to keep your pet, fight to keep him/her during the divorce too.
- Don’t steal-Divorce gets contentious, but just because you disagree with what your ex is doing doesn’t mean you should steal your dog back so he/she can stay with you. Courts will consider that theft and you could get yourself in criminal trouble as well as losing custody of your pet.
- Consider Sharing- If you and your ex are open to the idea, time sharing is an option that works for some couples who both love their pet and want to spend time with him/her. If you both want to keep the pet, why not make sure he/she still gets love from both of you even if you aren’t together.
Moreover, it has become clear that now courts realize that pets are members of the family and their best interests are being considered. Courts have even heard cases in which disputes arose as to the sharing of custody of the dog’s ashes, care of the pet during an illness, and settlements were achieved solely to preserve the well being of a pet. California has recently adopted Family Code §6320 (b), which protects domestic animals if there is reason to believe one of the parties may cause harm to the pet. Also, this provision protects animals in domestic violation situations. In instances of domestic abuse, pets can be included in domestic violence restraining orders and also require law enforcements to remove animals for domestic violence citations. With the new jump in custody cases it seems as though pet custody laws could develop into its own legal specialty in the near future.