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Pets: Property Division in Divorces

Many of us are aware of how difficult property division is during a contested divorce. Such property includes houses, children, and other valuables that may have been acquired during a marriage. However, as the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers announced last February, 27% of respondents in a recent survey cited pets (mainly dogs) as one of the most disputed areas of property during a divorce. Though many couples consider their pets as family members, all states currently view pets as property. As such, there are no specific laws on issues such as custody and visitation rights. This is because such rights would make divorce cases much harder to resolve and would put a larger burden upon judges.

The solution? Family law attorneys are now suggesting that couples put things they care about, such as pets, in their prenuptial agreement. Otherwise, most judges rule that whichever couple is eventually awarded the house in court also retains custody of the pets. However, there are policies in the process of being passed to address such issues. For example, an amended law discussed in family law attorney Mandy McKellar’s article states that the “intentional injuring or killing of an animal is a violation of a temporary protective order and requires further criminal prosecution.” The law also prohibits “ownership or possession of an animal by the person who harmed it.” Again, however, such issues, as most lawyers and judges are suggesting, should be resolved by the couples themselves.

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