What Happens to Pets After a Divorce?


We love our pets, and it seems crazy to think that California law views them as property to be divided in the event of a divorce.  My dogs, Murphy and Wykid Angel, certainly don’t consider themselves property – they are completely offended and horrified at being categorized as such.  So how do we protect ourselves and our furry children in the event of a divorce?

1.  Paperwork matters.  If your pets are AKC registered, make sure you look at their papers to see whose name(s) are listed as the owners.  Double check the vet records to make sure that you’re also on the contact list.  For that matter, make sure that you have copies of their current vaccinations, their Microchip ID numbers, and other such important information.  If you purchased the pets prior to marriage, find copies of the purchase contract, the source of the funds, and any other documentation that proves you are the legal owner.

2.  Think about parenting plans.  Consider a shared “custody” arrangement of your pets.  Just because the law characterizes pets as property doesn’t mean that we have to do the same.  Family law is very unique and special, in that Courts will honor a reasonable and enforceable agreement, regardless of whether or not it’s technically the “correct” legal resolution.  If you have human children, keeping your pets on the same schedule often makes sense.

3. Don’t forget about the details.  If you are going to do a shared custody arrangement, remember that you also have to discuss the costs of maintaining your pet.  I’m not just talking about food and grooming.  Although it’s not a comfortable topic, caring for your pets in their older years is something that needs to be discussed.  At what point do the vet bills become too expensive?  How will you make decisions regarding whether to treat or let them go?

4. Be compassionate.  As much as you love your pets, your spouse likely has also formed a close attachment with them.  Just as importantly, your pets likely love your spouse and would miss your spouse terribly if they never saw him or her again.  If we truly consider our pets as children, we need to “walk the walk.”  That means that we have to consider their best interests and not be selfish.  Just like it’s rarely in children’s best interests to never see the other parent, the same concept applies to our pets.  Sometimes we do have to make sacrifices and be uncomfortable because we love our pets and want what’s best for them.

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