As if terminating your marriage with your child caught in the crossfire is not heartbreaking enough, a pet custody dispute adds to the emotionally charged decisions you must make during divorce.
Like most pet owners, you treat your dog or cat as a family member. However, the law generally considers them as nothing more than personal property.
States like California, Illinois and Alaska have developed laws treating pet custody like child custody, which means that the pet’s best interests help the courts decide on pet custody issues.
Tennessee has yet to recognize pets as humans with actual emotions. However, the state’s lawmakers, Representative Caleb Hemmer and Senator Jeff Yarbro, recently proposed a bill considering pet custody disputes in divorce law. Although it passed in the Senate, the legislation failed in the House committee. Thus, your pet still falls under property division laws.
Whoever had the pet before the marriage keeps the animal, but your pet is marital property if acquired during the marriage. As part of marital property, equitable distribution applies.
During pet negotiations, your circumstances as a couple will be under evaluation:
- Who bought the pet?
- Who has the financial capacity to sustain the pet’s needs (food, treats, vitamins, routine veterinary visits and other medical emergencies)?
- Who has time to monitor the pet’s activities (feeding, walking and playing)?
- Whose house has an allowable and conducive environment for the pet’s safety and overall well-being?
- Who has custody of the child equally affected by the pet custody dispute?
You may prepare sufficient evidence showing why you should get full pet custody, but you may also agree on a joint custody arrangement amicably and share responsibilities. The court decides who gets legal custody if disagreements continue.
More than just a pet
Divorce entails changes that impact everything and everyone around you, including your pet. As a pet owner, you’d want to responsibly fight to continue being the pet parent that you’ve always intended to be. You could seek insight from your legal representative about how to keep your beloved pet.