Divorce and Your Dog

By | October 7, 2010

We treat our pets like members of our families, buy them presents for their birthdays, make them cool costumes for Halloween, sleep with them, watch t.v. with them, and care for them like they were our children.  And when the pet owners get divorced, they fight over issues of custody and visitation.  Except that, with rare exception, these battles are negotiations with the other side and not full-blown court battles.  The reason for this is simple.  Despite our affections and firm beliefs that “dogs, cats, hamsters, etc. are people too,” the law views animals as “chattel.”  A “chattel” is a tangible item of property (but not real property (that is land)).  So the fight over a pet is a fight over tangible property, and the court’s approach to the division of community property is generally to divide the property 50/50.  Not literally, of course.  Judges can be a pain but they generally don’t quibble about splitting hares.  If you left the question up to a judge, he or she would probably use a “cookie cutter” solution by figuring out the fair market value of the property and awarding the pet to one party and ordering the party receiving the pet to pay equalization to the other party.  If you are really attached to the pet, then you had better hope that you are the more deserving pet owner.  The simpler solution is to keep the matter out of court.  Many creative solutions may be made between the parties, including a timeshare arrangement just like you might make for children.  With a negotiated settlement agreement, anything is possible.  If the parties have children, it would be easy to keep the same visitation schedule for the pet as for the child (with the exception of perhaps the mid-week dinner visit).  The answer to the question of “who gets the dog” might be neither party.  Perhaps the child could be awarded the pet.