Property or family member? How laws view pets in divorce

Pets are regarded by many people to be important parts of any family. We often include them in everything from family photos to family vacations. But this treatment of a pet as a family member can create problems in the event of a divorce because, as some of our Massachusetts readers may be finding out right now, the law does not have the same view on pets as the majority of the public does.

According to our state’s laws, animals are considered property in the event of a divorce. This means that regardless of each spouse’s attachment to the animal, it is still subject to equitable distribution. Though the courts may take into consideration when the pet was purchased, which would establish it as either separate or community property, or whether it was an intended gift to one spouse and not the couple, this may not be the case for every couple, meaning other options may need to be pursued.

Though property division can sometimes be a contentious process, adding a beloved pet into the mix can make emotions run even higher. To avoid this problem, some couples have started drafting pet custody agreements instead. Similar to child custody agreements, couples who want to share custody of their pet can enter into an agreement that establishes everything from custody and visitation to so-called “pet support” payments. These agreements often help couples find a middle ground rather than bickering over who should get the pet or not.

It’s important to point out though that not all states recognize these agreements as legally binding, meaning enforcing them may not be as easy as some may think. Couples considering such agreements may want to check with a skilled attorney on the matter if not only to see if the state allows such agreements but to make sure that each person’s rights are protected in the process as well.

Source: Parade, “In a Divorce, Who Gets the Pets?” Michele C. Hollow, Aug. 18, 2014