It used to be that in terms of custody rights in divorce decisions, we thought only of children, but as pet ownership has soared and pets have become beloved family members, custody rights for pets have become a big issue. Two states have even gone so far as to enact legislation (other states are considering it) that supports a form of custody when it comes to family pets. Though in most states pets are still considered personal property, Illinois and Alaska have forged ahead and passed pet-custody legislation that looks at pet rights with a different perspective.
For example, Illinois’s Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act, was amended this past January, to differentiate “companion animals” from personal property. In a divorce decision, the jury must consider the “welfare of the pet” before deciding to award sole or joint ownership of the pet. Alaska’s similar pet-custody legislation allows courts to consider the pet’s “well-being” in making custody decisions. Legislation enactments like Alaska and Illinois support a trend in how we feel about our companion animals. At least 32 states and Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, have provisions that enable the courts to award possession of a pet in cases of domestic violence.
Decisions, Decisions, Decisions
Fights over who gets to keep the pets can get as ugly as custody disputes over children. Pets are members of the family for most people and are treated as such. For several years courts have awarded custody, visitation, and alimony payments to pet owners. Estate or trust awards for care of a pet are not unheard of.
The courts in California, who still consider animals as property, do not have the ability to grant custody rights to either spouse. The court only has the right to determine ownership of the animal and the animal’s best interest isn’t a required consideration. Couples are expected to decide how custody, visitation and care will work. If couples can come to a mutual decision on what is best for the pet, an agreement may be made. But, if not, and disagreement prevails, it may be time for a third party intervention.
Mediate Your Way to Successful Pet Sharing
A skilled divorce mediator acts as neutral third party that guides couples through the separation process with careful consideration of each divorce issue. Not only can the mediator help you make decisions on issues such as asset and debt division, alimony, child support and custody, the mediator can also help you to determine the care and custody of your precious pets. Along with the amount of time spent with the pet, divorcing spouses may consider sharing the cost of food and vet bills. With consideration for the pet’s welfare and with respect for the wishes of each spouse, the mediator will help you to decide a joint or sole custody agreement that is right for your family.