Only in recent years have pets entered into the divorce scene. Court battles over who will get custody of the family pet are becoming routine around the country and here in Utah. One statistic indicates that approximately 10 percent of divorce proceedings become contentious due to the family pet.
The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers conducted a survey to see what types of animals are causing these contentious battles. It may not surprise Utah residents who own dogs that 88 percent of the time, the parties were vying for custody of the family dog. However, all kinds of pet — cats, birds and reptiles — are also fought over by their owners.
One source believes that the increase in pet-oriented custody issues is due to the fact that more couples are either waiting until later in life to have children or choosing to have none at all. Owners become attached to the family pet as if they are children. Therefore, if the couple gets divorced, it can be difficult for the parties to come to an agreement. One couple spent years determining the fate of the dog they bought together as a puppy.
There are no custody laws when it comes to pets. They are treated as property by divorce courts. In cases where there are children involved, the pets will ordinarily stay with them. In other cases, it may come down to who has the financial ability to support the pet or who spent the majority of time and money caring for it during the marriage.
Many couples are beginning to include what will happen to the family pet in their prenuptial agreements in order to avoid any protracted litigation in the event of a divorce. If a couple did not make prior arrangements, it may be a good idea to try to come to an agreement without going to court since the parties can come up with a plan that works best for them. The court may not make the same choices that the parties would make if given the opportunity.
Source: Reuters, “In divorce and custody battles, now it’s about the dog”, Chris Taylor, Aug. 12, 2015