Who keeps the pets in a divorce?

Don’t play divorce ping-pong with pets and kids.

It is up to the parties in a divorce to decide what is best for their cat or dog when they divorce. The companion animal’s welfare is paramount when making this decision. Cats and dogs and other pets should not be treated as inanimate possessions. It is certainly far better if the parties decide the entirety of division of assets themselves and present their agreement to their lawyer rather than relying on lawyers to argue on their behalf. This simply creates animosity and hardens what might already be polarised positions.

A decision about who should look after the family pet or pets would be based upon, as mentioned, the animal’s welfare. This means which party takes care of the cat or dog on a day-to-day basis. Who was the primary carer of the companion animal during marriage? The tasks in caring for a companion animal are varied and include taking your cat or dog to the veterinarian, cleaning the litter, taking the dog for a walk etc.. Also a major factor will be who can best afford to pay the outgoings in respect of caring for a companion animal. Then there is the location where the parties will live when separated and the sort of property they’ll live in.

When there are children the wife will normally stay in the family home which might mean the pets stay there too. Certainly for cats, if they are inside/outside cats, the location of their home is an important consideration.

Often sensible divorcing couples don’t need to itemise the above questions. The answer should be readily apparent but sadly often couples are arguing already and therefore they may have to rely upon a more scientific approach and try to pre-empt what a judge might decide based upon these criteria.

Where there is more than one companion animal and they are friends and close companions themselves then, in my opinion, it is better that they stick together and live with either one of the divorcing couple. I don’t think that it is a good idea to separate them simply to create an equal division of assets. This is not really prioritizing the animal’s welfare. It is treating the animals as family assets which is not the best attitude to take.

The bottom line is that companion animals today are seen as family members. They should be treated accordingly in divorce. Animosity should be put aside and a businesslike and sensible decision made about their future.

If a divorce goes to court in respect of division of assets then a judge will make a decision based upon the above-mentioned criteria so it is far better for the couple to decide for themselves. Also, nowadays, courts invariably put the burden of decision-making upon the couple and encourage them to mediate. It is important that couples agree their future apart and division of assets rather than obtain a court order because court orders are often broken which means a return to court to enforce the order which means more animosity and more difficulties which in turn undermines the welfare of family members including companion animals and of course children.

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