Pets are often viewed as members of the family. So what happens to these “fur babies” when a couple separates? Does one party get custody of the pet? Does the other have to pay support?
No and no. As much as we love the animals we share our homes with, they are viewed as property under the law. There are no rights to access and no entitlements to support when it comes to pets. We look at who purchased the pet (the purchase documents can be very important in this regard), who paid for its care and upkeep, whether it was a gift, and whether one party brought the pet into the relationship to determine the issue of ownership.
Everyone has seen a TV show or movie in which the “custody” of a pet is decided by having the animal choose its human (usually the party with bacon in his/her pocket wins). Not once have I seen this occur in real life but it is a viable decision-making option (just don’t forget the bacon!). I have had clients include a “parenting” schedule in their Separation Agreement for the family pet. These parties often agree to share veterinary bills but to each bear responsibility for food, toys, beds, etc.
The Family Court will not spend time on issues relating to pets. A judge will not make orders for custody, access, or support for the family pet. The court will also not order that the pet be sold and the proceeds shared (as a judge can do with a jointly owned home).
Clients are often embarrassed to raise the issue of pets with us; don’t be! We love animals and we understand the emotional connection you feel with yours. If you and your partner cannot reach a resolution regarding your pet(s), we can assist you in negotiating a resolution.