pets and divorce

Who Gets to Keep the Pets During a Divorce?

Divorces are always challenging and typically involve contentious fights over certain assets. In an Auburn, AL divorce, one common dispute involves the family pet. Who gets to keep the pet? Some states have passed a new regulation that treats pets more like children during a divorce. In these states, courts consider the animal’s best interest in establishing pet allocation rather than treating the pet similar to property.

However, no clear laws on pet distribution in divorce exist in Alabama. How will a court determine family pet allocation in a divorce? Learn more about pet custody in an Auburn divorce in the sections below.

Pet Custody in an Auburn, AL Divorce Courts

Pet parents consider pets as a part of the family, but there is no assurance that a divorce court will think in a similar manner. Like most states, Alabama treats pets as merely another type of personal property. The courts will then not make custody agreements on family pets, unlike with children.

As with other property, if one spouse owned the pet before marriage, it will be treated as separate property and not included in marital property. In case the spouses acquired the pet during the marriage, it will be considered marital property and will be subject to distribution during the divorce process.

Parties to a divorce can certainly make voluntary arrangements for pets, and they are encouraged to do so. Even if a court would not lay down a “pet custody” arrangement, the divorcing spouses are free to develop such an agreement into the final marital property distribution agreement.

For instance, this can include provisions for the pet to remain with each spouse for a specific time. If included in the ultimate agreement, the pet custody agreement will have the same strength of law as the rest of the property division according to the laws of contract.

Pet Custody Considerations in Auburn, AL

If the parties do not come to an agreement on pet custody, courts will assess various factors to determine which spouse gets the keep the pet. For example, a divorcing spouse who wants to keep their pet could show the court that they had more of a personal attachment to the pet and that they were the primary caregiver for that animal. Pictures of time spent with the pet, neighbor testimony that you helped walk and care for it, or evidence that you fielded veterinary appointments are all helpful in deciding on pet allocation.

Further, Auburn family courts will consider child custody arrangements in deciding who gets the pet(s). In general, courts will often determine that pets should go with the kids, either to a single primary caregiver’s residence or back-and-forth as elucidated in a joint custody arrangement. Also, similar to child custody arrangements, courts will review financial evidence to establish who can afford to care for the pets after a divorce.

Why Pet Custody Matters

Pets – especially dogs – are highly sensitive and are known to get emotionally attached to their owners. Studies show that pets – when separated from their owners – experience what is called ‘separation anxiety’ and tend to get depressed. If the owner is suddenly out of the picture – due to a divorce or death – the pet cannot understand why they disappeared. As a result, the pet might feel rejected and lose interest in life.

This is why pet custody remains one of the most contentious issues in an Auburn divorce. The owners know that their fur babies would be lost without them. This is also why you, as a pet owner, need to do everything in your capacity to make sure your pet does not get separated from you.

How to Obtain Pet Custody: How Auburn, AL Courts Determine Custody Agreements for Pet Owners

In an Auburn pet custody dispute, courts will typically review the following aspects:

  • Who pays for the pet (and is there proof of such payment)?
  • Who pays for routine pet care, such as doggy daycare, food, veterinarian bills, or other services?
  • Who spends time with the pet?
  • Are there any indications of pet abuse?
  • Will spending less time with the pet impact the human children in your custody?
  • What are the animal’s best interests? (does the pet prefer the company of one owner more than the other one)

Importantly, your dog could be more than a pet. If your pet is an emotional support or service animal, it is not considered a family pet and cannot be taken away from you. Speaking to a doctor and certifying your pet as your emotional support animal is a strategy that some dog owners may use.

In order to win a pet custody battle, the most vital thing you will need to establish is that you spent the most on your pet. Collect any evidence related to bills you have paid, time spent with your pet, and other aspects that prove you have spent the most time and money on them and their health.

Questions to Ask in Auburn, AL Regarding Pets and Divorce

If you cannot agree on pet distribution before the divorce, you must be prepared to show that your furry friend is better off staying with you. To prove this, the following items may be useful:

  • Ownership or adoption papers showing you as the pet’s registered owner.
  • Signed statements and/or receipts from the veterinarian, pet store, neighbors, or training classes showing you as the person primarily responsible for the pet’s medical care and well-being.
  • Pre-divorce filing pictures of you with your pet.
  • Evidence that you are fully able to provide sufficient space, proper housing, and adequate time in your lifestyle to care for the pet once the divorce goes through.

We Understand that Pets are a Part of the Family

At Alsobrook Law Group, we know that your pets are precious to you, and they are family. We stand by you to obtain the best outcome for your “furriest child” as you strive to help your pet cope during this challenging time. Speak to our experienced Auburn, AL divorce attorney for a complimentary consultation to help you evaluate the legal options that exist for you and your pets. Call today at (334) 737-3718.