Although some married couples do not have any children to take care of, they may have pets instead. When it comes to divorce, pets are often a point of contention during proceedings.
But how are family pets typically handled during divorce?
In Massachusetts and in most states throughout the country, pets are considered as personal property by the family courts and are subject to division, as many other marital assets would be divided. So when the divorce decree is issued, any animals from the marriage will be assigned to only one owner.
However, you have a right to make an argument of how you wish the pet issue to be settled. So if the parties treat the pets as children, a judge will often treat them in the same manner.
Keep in mind, there is no formula for awarding possession of pets. Unlike custody of children, pets are not based on a best interest standard. Rather, the courts will look at several factors when determining who keeps any animals.
For example, if one individual owned the pet before the relationship, that animal is considered separate property, not marital property. If the animal joined the home during the marriage, either spouse may have a claim to the pet. If it was a gift, the recipient will often keep the animal. If there are children, a judge would most likely award ownership of the animals to the parent who has primary custody of the children. Otherwise, the courts will decide who has more claim to the animal and who can provide for it.
In most cases, a judge encourages the parties to negotiate joint arrangement, a visitation schedule, and allocation of pet-related costs, such as food, boarding costs, and medical care. It is imperative to work with an experienced family law attorney so that creative solutions can be negotiated with your spouse.