Pets are like our children, but only with hair, fur and feathers.
At least, that is what we think from an emotional standpoint. We are emotionally invested with our pets almost as much as our children. Unfortunately, many states have laws that account for pets as property in a divorce or legal separation case.
Emotion vs. the Law
Family law has the goal of re-unifying families, or at the very least to keep stable living conditions for children. While much of divorce court is about splitting up property, children have always been considered different from property – they have been considered minor children with emotional bonds to their parents.
However, pets are largely ignored in that sense. Pets have an emotional bond to the family as well – though it may be admittedly more one-sided (humans toward pets) than the human relationships.
Laws governing divorce and family custody issues were slow in taking pets into account, but some of that has slowly been changing in several states, where pets are starting to be treated “children” rather than “property.”
The Current Reality
Divorce is more often messy than amicable, when the two people going through the process have a tendency to fight for virtually everything, including children. However, because there has been a relative lack of clarity involving pets, if there is a need for consideration of the two parties working together, it might have to be for any pets in the relationship.
Dogs have been especially featured in legal circles lately in the evolution of pet custody laws, as dogs are considered most popular and high-maintenance for their health and happiness. Courts have been open to awarding custody of dogs as well as visitation in divorces, but many states encourage the couple to actually come up with its own agreement outside of court in terms of where the dog will live, who will care for it and whether the other “parent” will have visitation or even will want it.
Is Pet Visitation a Thing?
The short answer is yes, but it’s not something that is handled by courts. Any visitation or custody agreement would have to be worked out by the couple, and very few states so far are willing to use court resources to enforce terms of any visitation agreement. Therefore, if both people in a divorce case wish to spend time with the pet, it is recommended that they work it out themselves and pinky-swear upon a very specific agreement, or make an agreement so vague that it can’t be enforceable and is only operated under “good faith.”
Use Legal Means Sparingly
Until pet-custody laws are brought forth in many states, you might assume that you won’t get any help in court in enforcing any pet visitation agreements. It would benefit the pet to have a document negotiated by the parties involving visitation and care of the pet(s) in the family, and have all expenses tracked and shared between the parties.
Contact our San Diego attorneys for a consultation about your pets and let us help you form the right kind of agreement that both parties can uphold so your pets have as much care as they normally require.