Pets in Divorce Settlements

Posted On February 2, 2023 Divorce,Family Law

Pet custody can become a contentious issue in a divorce. Since pets are considered personal property, custody typically depends on when the animal was acquired.

How Pets are Treated in a Divorce

Unlike most states, Washington is a community property state where assets and debts are divided equally between spouses. However, property acquired before the marriage is considered separate and belongs to the spouse who acquired it. Since pets are treated as personal property, who the animal belongs to will depend on whether it was acquired during the course of the marriage or before. For example, if one spouse had a pet before entering the marriage, the pet would go to that spouse in a divorce. On the other hand, if it was a family pet acquired during the marriage, various factors may be considered when the court decides which spouse it belongs to. For example, the relationship and affinity each family member has for the pet and the well-being of any children related to the pet. Therefore, the pet may be awarded to the spouse who has primary custody of the children.

Custody Agreements with Pets in a Divorce

Depending on the circumstances, sharing possession of a pet may be a reasonable alternative, but the spouses must reach a voluntary agreement. A divorce court is unlikely to grant visitation, according to a recent ruling from the Court of Appeals. The decision by a Clark County Court that gave a wife visitation rights to two dogs that primarily lived with the ex-husband was overturned on the basis that there is no law for visitation rights to property.

Therefore, if two spouses wish to be involved in a pet’s life, they must come up with a pet-sharing agreement. Some issues to consider include the following:

  • The pet’s schedule with each spouse.
  • How decisions will be made, such as medical or end-of-life.
  • How costs will be divided.
  • What will happen if a spouse moves.
  • What process will be used to resolve any disagreements (e.g., mediation).

Although all divorce matters are typically better decided out of court, doing so when it comes to pet issues is the only good option if spouses wish to share custody.

Deciding Pet Custody Through Mediation

If spouses cannot agree on pet ownership and do not wish for a judge to decide, mediation is an alternative way of reaching a solution. In divorce mediation, spouses work with a neutral third party (mediator) who will attempt to help the parties find common ground to resolve disputes in an effort to avoid court. The following questions will typically be discussed:

  • If there are children, which spouse will have primary custody and is it important to their wellbeing?
  • Which spouse primarily took care of the pet throughout the marriage?
  • Which spouse is better equipped to care for the pet (e.g., feeding, walking, grooming)?
  • Which spouse is willing to pay for veterinary expenses?
  • How would the pet adjust to new living conditions?

For more help protecting your interests and family pet in a divorce, arrange a free consultation with a Washington divorce attorney to discuss your situation and options.

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