Pets become part of a family. So what happens to Fluffy, Fido or Speedy when the family breaks up?
Courts treat pets like property (I know: the horror). However, it is also not realistic to expect a Court to order a custody evaluation and determine with party is most fit to care for a dog or cat, as it would a child. The Court has limited time and resources. In fact, Courts rarely spend a lot of time dividing property, unless it is a big asset or one difficult to divide – like a house or a business.
In a contested divorce, if the parties cannot decide who gets the pet, the Court may simply pick one party to be awarded the pet or order it sold. The party that does not get the pet may get an equalizing payment for half of the value of the pet. Absent an agreement, it is unlikely that the Court will order the parties to share custody of the pet.
In mediation, or other alternatives to a contested/litigated divorce, parties can come up with a flexible solution that works for the family. Mediation is a way to resolve divorces and other conflicts through cooperation and with the assistance with a person trained in conflict resolution (the mediator). In mediation, the pet owners can come up with creative or elaborate resolutions that are binding. Perhaps the pets will follow the same parental access schedule as the children. Perhaps the parties will share custody of the pet and sign a Joint Custody Agreement, replete with a holiday exchange schedule.
Deciding what to do with a pet in a break up may be even more difficult where the parties were never married. Mediation is available to all pet owners (and other people) in dispute.
Alona M. Gottfried is a family law mediator and attorney in Arizona. If you have questions about mediation, she can be reached at: 480-998-1500 or firstname.lastname@example.org. This is a general interest article only and is not intended to be legal advice. See a legal professional before making legal decisions.