Studies estimate that 68% of families throughout America include a pet. Whether that be a dog, cat, bird, or other animal that provides companionship, this is a large percentage. You might not think about what would happen to your pet in the event of a divorce, but it is a conversation that is becoming increasingly popular. There are many points at which a divorce can become contentious or hostile. Most people do not think that this point is when discussing what will happen to the family pet, but tempers have been known to flare when discussing pet custody. Pets are often a source of joy, and it is reasonable that both parties to a divorce would like to retain ownership of said pet. Are there laws in place to determine pet custody? Is a pet considered property? Knowing the rights you have to your beloved pet could help you navigate the divorce process.
Property v. Custody
Even though many people think of their pet as their child, unfortunately the state of Alabama does not recognize that. Pets are considered property of individuals. Some states have started to implement “custody” like procedures for pets. Some states and jurisdictions will consider the best interests of the pet when deciding which of the spouses will retain ownership or custody after the divorce. Unfortunately, pet custody laws that have been implemented in other states have yet to reach Alabama.
Even if Alabama is not ahead of the curve in adopting laws surrounding the custody of our pets, that does not mean that there are no options available to those fighting to retain ownership of their pets in a divorce. There are laws that are put in place to protect the property of individuals in a divorce. Since pets are considered property, these laws apply to them, as well.
Alabama is an equitable distribution state. In divorce, this means that the marital assets of a couple will be split equitably between them. It is important to note that equitable does not necessarily mean equal. Instead, the distribution of marital property must be fair based on the couple’s unique circumstances. Judges use a variety of factors to determine what is a fair distribution. Your pet could become a subject in this discussion. Judges will look at the personal finances of each individual, the earning potential, marital standard of living, what each spouse has contributed, and a variety of other factors in dividing assets.
There is a situation in which the family pet would not be considered part of the marital assets to divide. If one spouse owned the pet prior to the marriage, the pet would not be considered marital property. Marital property refers to the assets that are acquired during the marriage, not the assets or property that each spouse owned individually before the marriage. If you were the owner of a pet, married someone, and then get divorced – you are still the owner of that pet. Even if you both enjoyed the company of the pet, it is legally yours.
Some couples may not want to leave the decision of who is going to be the owner of the dog up to a judge. In these instances, trying to come to a mutual agreement about pet custody is probably the best option. During negotiations, the custody of the pet can be brought up and both sides can try to come to an acceptable decision. In any event, it is important to consider the best interests of the pet. Your pet is like your child and you only want what is best for it. Keeping that in mind might give you a clearer picture of who might be the better pet parent. Is one spouse home more and doing the bulk share of caring for the pet? In most instances, the spouse who is caring for the pet most of the time is going to be the best choice for custody. Visitation of the pet can also be mutually agreed upon, whereas in court, the judge is not likely going to grant pet visitation rights in the divorce decree.
If you are going through a divorce, the divorce attorneys at Massey, Stotser & Nichols, PC are here for you. We know that emotions can run high during divorce proceedings, especially if the custody of your beloved pet becomes an issue of contention. We work diligently to get the most favorable result possible under the circumstances for you. If there is a way for you to retain custody of your pet, we will work diligently to get there. Contact us today for a consultation.