Most pet owners feel that their pets are a part of their family. Unfortunately, if you are going through a divorce, ownership of a pet is legally considered the same as ownership of other property, like furniture or vehicles. In many divorce cases, which spouse will keep a beloved pet can become a highly contested issue.
Unlike child custody matters, courts will not spend significant resources deciding which spouse will keep a family pet. In a child custody determination, courts will allow each parent to present testimony, documents, and other evidence regarding their relationship with the children, and the court will make any decisions based on the evidence presented and what the court believes is in the child's best interests. Courts simply do not have the time or resources to devote to hearing extensive testimony about which spouse should be allowed to keep a pet.
There are several things that you will need to keep in mind during the settlement negotiation process as your case proceeds to trial. Many divorce cases can be worked out through an agreement or through alternative dispute resolution such as mediation.
The first thing you need to consider is when the pet was acquired. If you owned a dog, cat, or other animal before the marriage, it will be considered non-marital property. Just like other property, it will not be considered part of the marital estate that is subject to division. Therefore, there will be no question about which spouse is entitled to keep a pet that was owned before the marriage.
Another thing to consider is that if a court is asked to decide which spouse will keep a family pet, the value of the pet will be taken into account along with other property in the marital estate. If keeping a family pet is important to you, you may need to be willing to negotiate to allow your spouse to keep property that is important to them.
In addition to considering what property must be divided in the marital estate, you may wish to consider practical concerns. Many spouses with children decide that a pet will go with whichever parent has primary custody of the children. You may also consider what your housing situation will be like after the divorce is finalized. If you are downsizing your home, you may consider how that will affect your pet's overall well-being. You may also think about what your schedule will be like after the divorce and how much time you have to devote to caring for your pet.
Who gets to keep a pet is a provision that can be included in a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement. This type of agreement can save significant time and expenses when it comes to a divorce. Even though a court will not spend the same amount of time deciding who will keep ownership of a pet as a court will when determining matters related to child custody, this is an issue that can often be worked out before trial with successful negotiation.
Schedule a Consultation with a Missouri Divorce Attorney
Missouri-licensed attorney Joshua Wilson handles all types of family law cases, including divorce litigation. Contact the Joshua Wilson Law Firm online or call (816) 331-9968 to schedule a consultation.