In the past couple of decades, pets have taken on an increasingly more important role in our lives, and now many people consider their pets to be members of the family instead of just animals that they own. The United States legal system has begun to follow suit in rulings on divorce proceedings. Where pets were once considered only property, they have now become the focus of many couples’ divorce agreements and disputes.
Pets Still Considered Personal Property
Legally speaking, pets, unlike children, are still technically considered personal property. Traditionally, a court would determine “custody” of a pet the same way that they would determine who gets a toaster oven or a lawn mower. The court would take into account which spouse purchased the pet and when or if the pet was given from one spouse to another as a gift or inherited by one spouse from a deceased relative. The court will take into account whether the state is a community property or separate property state. Unlike in a separate property state (sometimes called an equitable property state), in a community property state both spouses are typically entitled to the assets earned during the course of the marriage, regardless of who earned them. Community property states include Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin, as well as Alaska if a couple opts in. When the court treats animals like property without taking emotional attachment and the best interests of the animals into account, couples may enter into a bidding war for the pets, using the other assets that are in dispute as bargaining chips.
Changing Legal Landscape
Nowadays, courts have started to acknowledge that many people view their pets to be members of the family. In addition to the above criteria, a court now may also take into account who spent more time taking care of the pet and which spouse would be a better owner and take better care of the pet. Courts also typically honor prenuptial agreements that specify who gets to take ownership of the family pet in the event of a divorce. Since a marriage may outlive a pet, and a couple may purchase a pet together either before or after marriage, courts also usually honor postnuptial agreements. However, there are a few exceptions to this rule. For example, if the pet had been abused by the spouse who was supposed to get possession, then that spouse would not be able to keep the pet. Additionally, if there is a restraining order against a spouse, that spouse cannot keep the pet. Despite these precautions, there have still unfortunately been cases where there have been threats or actual injury to the animals in dispute by the spouse losing possession.
If you need skilled legal representation in a divorce, custody proceeding, restraining order, civil union or any other aspect of family law , you can turn to the Law Office of Renkin & Associates for the expertise that you deserve. Our attorneys fight hard to help clients protect their assets during a divorce, which is one of our San Diego divorce lawyers’ specialties.