Divorce Dilemma: What Happens to Pets After a Divorce?

In a divorce, splitting up assets such as the furniture, small kitchen appliances and vehicles can seem fairly straight forward.  But what happens to pets in a divorce?

Pets (dogs, cats, birds, etc.), while legally defined as property, are very rarely seen as property by their owners.  Simply put, many pets are considered family members.  So how does one determine who gets custody these furred or feathered family members?

Several factors go into deciding custody of family pets.  First, what kind of animal is the pet?  For instance, dogs are more adaptable to new, changing environments while cats thrive in stable, routine environments.  Uprooting a cat to a new home along with the absence of one of his owners could cause some physical or emotional aberrations in behavior.

Second, who was the main caregiver for the pet?  Who cleaned the bird’s cage?  Who groomed and fed the cat or dog?  Who was responsible for training?  Who took the pet to the veterinarian?  The absence of the main caregiver in a pet’s life can cause distress, which may lead to behavioral issues in any kind of pet.

Third, who is financially able to care for the pet?  It is well-known that pet costs from food, vet bills and grooming can mount up to a sizable sum annually.  The last thing a pet needs is to be a financial burden during a tumultuous time in life.

Lastly, can the pet benefit from shared custody?  Again, since dogs are more adaptable to change, shared custody could be an option when both parties are equally bonded to the pet through shared responsibility.  Cats, being less amicable to change, fare better with as little change as possible.  Ideally, cats should remain with his or her preferred owner especially if the environment is going to change.

As the fog of divorce lifts, pets gradually adjust to the new circumstances.  Be sure to address any concerns you have with new, unwanted behavior with a qualified veterinarian.  Contact us with any questions you have regarding disposition of pets in a divorce.