Warning! Pet Custody And Youngster Custody Are Not The Identical
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Even if you consider your pets family members and treat them more like children, pet custody varies greatly in the event of divorce. In most countries, the law treats pet custody and child custody completely differently.
In general, this means pets are considered property … like your television, patio furniture, or other household items. For animal lovers, this can be hard to believe. You may be wondering how a judge could possibly see your case this way. However, the judges are bound by the laws of their jurisdiction. You cannot simply choose to treat your pet like a child even if they are okay with your situation.
It means that arguing about who can look after the dog is very risky. Nobody can tell you what a court might decide. In all fairness, it is better for everyone if you and your STBX can reach an out-of-court settlement. This is absolutely the best way to make sure what happens to your pets works for your family.
What does pets mean as property?
If pets are considered property, the first step is to determine whether they are marital property. If you owned the pet before you married, you might be able to argue that the animal is your separate property and that is the end of the discussion.
If the pet was acquired during the marriage, you will be asked questions such as:
- Who paid for the pet?
- Who did what to support the pet?
- What are the economic circumstances of each of you?
Sounds very math and financial, doesn’t it?
What Does Pet Best Interest Mean?
The approach that is more akin to how most people view their pets is “best interest.” This is a more nuanced approach. Some states, particularly California, Illinois, and Alaska, now require this standard.
The best interest approach takes into account factors such as the following:
- the wishes of each “parent”
- the interactions between the pet and the parents and with the children
- the mental and physical health of all parties
- each party’s ability to encourage the sharing of love and affection and contact between the pet and the other party
Other considerations include where the children live, previous care responsibilities, previous financial obligations for the pet, and future living conditions.
Reaching an agreement is best
As a divorce mediator in Boulder County, I have to tell you that reaching an agreement on your pet (and anything else related to your divorce) is always better for you and your STBX. You can create terms that cover your specific problems and concerns, and you won’t spend a lot of money on lawyers for court hearings.
Making an arrangement on your own will reduce the stress and fear of conflict for everyone involved, including your children. And I would argue that this will add to a civil relationship with your STBX, which is vital if you are parents together.
If you are working with an attorney or mediator, you can suggest to your STBX that you work on your pet contract separately. This would help you manage your expenses, and you can still ask your mediator or attorney to include the agreement on your divorce papers so that it becomes a court order.
What does an agreement include?
The good news about creating a pet custody agreement is that you don’t have to start from scratch. When you create a parenting plan, you can emulate it. Work through each section as you would your pet.
There may be some sections like Tax Exemptions and Phone Contacts that don’t apply, but most of the other sections would. In addition to the basic plan and vacation insurance, I would pay special attention to how decisions about medical treatment are made and how veterinary expenses are shared.
Denver-based attorney Rich Harris says it’s also important to develop the ability to change the agreement in the future. For example, you can agree to meet annually to review the agreement for necessary or desirable changes if you consider changes to your life situation or the life of your STBX and your pet’s health.
Shared custody arrangements, where the pet moves between houses, are great for dogs. They don’t work as well for other pets, either because the pet itself doesn’t fare well in two different places, like many cats, or because, like a fish, it would be very difficult to move the animal to another location on a regular basis. In these situations, you will likely talk about who the pet will be staying with and how the other party can come to visit regularly.
You can also find templates on the Internet, for example from LegalTemplates.
Talk to your pet
When we talk about best interest, you’ll also want to consider what it means from the pet’s point of view. You and your STBX likely have your own opinions about what your pet wants. Your children probably too.
Just as you may be asking for input from your child on any aspect of the parenting agreement, you can talk to your pet. Yes, I said that. I will forgive you if you think this is totally atypical of me, but listen to me.
Some of my clients have worked with an animal communicator or clairvoyant to resolve pet custody issues. It seems like a very bouldering thing, but it’s real. In the cases I have been involved in, it has helped the parties reach an agreement.
A good first step is for you and your STBX to agree on the professional’s choice. Then you can both meet with the clairvoyant.
If you have a pet custody arrangement with your ex, please share it in the comments. Now, if this is a problem for you, would you use a pet clairvoyant?
Photo by Zach Kadolph on Unsplash