One of the most heart-wrenching decisions that a divorcing couple can make is who gets the pet(s). If there are children involved, the custodial parent often keeps them because of their emotional connection to the kids. However, for child-free couples whose animals are their children, it can become a bitter custody battle.
The Animals' Best Interests Are Increasingly Part of the Equation
Courts have historically considered animals to be property. Therefore, if the matter goes before a judge, he or she isn't obligated to consider what's in the animal's best interests. However, that's slowly starting to change. Legislation recently enacted in Alaska and a bill currently before the Rhode Island legislature require courts to consider what's best for the animal when determining custody and visitation arrangements.
If a couple already has one or more pets together when they get married, it may be wise to include details about where they will go in the event of a divorce in a prenuptial agreement. If each brings his or her own animals into the marriage, they're generally nonmarital property that they'd keep in a divorce.
What About Animals You Adopt After You're Married?
Often, however, couples don't adopt pets until after they're married. That's when things can become sticky in a divorce. One way to avoid a custody battle is to put the animal's ownership in just one person's name. However, happily-married couples often don't have any inclination to do that. Even if they do, the dog or cat could become equally beloved by both or more beloved by the spouse who's not the legal owner.
If you have animals when you marry or believe that you'll be adopting one or more, it's worth making some sort of stipulation about who will get them in your prenuptial agreement. Of course, it's hard to predict how much you may grow to love an animal you haven't yet met. That's why it's always best if couples can come to an agreement in the divorce that will allow both of them to continue to spend time with their beloved pooch or feline.
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