Almost 50% of all marriages in the U.S. end in divorce. With 67% of American households having some kind of pet, there’s bound to be some overlap between those two statistics. When you’re going through a divorce, courts will typically consider creating a plan for your children. But pets are considered property, not family – no matter how much you might disagree with that statement!
Because of that, it can be difficult to navigate pet ownership during divorce. Separation usually has a heavy impact on families. Each person will deal with it differently, including children. So, it’s important to keep everyone in mind when you’re trying to determine what’s best for your pet.
There are also some legal considerations to consider, as well as how to keep your pet happy and healthy throughout the process.
Let’s dive deeper into how you can healthily navigate pet ownership during divorce and what that might look like for you and your family.
Put your pet first
First and foremost, your decision about what to do with your pet should be based on their needs and who can meet them. For example, if you’re staying in the marital home and your ex is moving into an apartment, it will be better for your pet to stay somewhere familiar most of the time. Living in a house also usually means you’ll have more space and a yard for your pet to enjoy.
Your goal should be to offer your pet the healthiest space possible. That includes a home that is clean and free of pests. You can keep fleas away by vacuuming the places where your pet sleeps and putting down washable blankets or towels for them to lay on and washing them — and your pets — frequently. If you have more time to do that than your former spouse, the “pet custody” leans in your favor, too.
Of course, your spouse has to be on board with putting your pet first. But, if they’re asking for time with the pet anyway, chances are they care about it enough to think about its needs over their own.
Focus on your family
When there are custody issues with children in court, the judge is supposed to make a decision based on the best interests of those children. While a judge is unlikely to do the same with a pet, you should take the initiative to do that as a pet owner.
If you have kids, it’s important to understand that they’re already going through some major changes. Divorce can impact children in many different ways, causing a slew of emotions that often include:
Studies have shown that pets can reduce feelings of stress and anxiety, keeping you calm and boosting your mood. Your kids might need that comfort during your separation. So, wherever they are, you should consider keeping your pet there, too.
When it comes to keeping your pet or having it most of the time, keep your self-care in mind, too. Going through a divorce isn’t easy, even if it’s amicable. Having a furry friend around to boost your mood can make a big difference in how you handle the grieving process.
Consider the legalities
Pets are often viewed as property in a court of law. So, joint custody isn’t an option. Unless you signed a prenuptial agreement about your pet before getting married, it’s unlikely a court will have any opinion on what to do with your dog or cat. A prenup should include things like:
- A basic decision about pet custody
- Visitation rights
- Name(s) of who is responsible for pet medical decisions
- Division of assets to provide for pet’s needs
If you do want to fight for “custody” of your pet, you might be able to convince a judge if you gather enough evidence. For example, if you are listed as the owner on your pet’s registration or adoption papers, that’s a good start. Financial records suggesting you took responsibility for their needs are also beneficial, as well as being able to prove you have a better, more stable home life.
Some states are starting to see pets as more than property, including Illinois where a new law is treating pets in divorce cases more like children. So, even though most states still won’t allow for a pet custodial arrangement, it may not hurt to try if you have convincing evidence that your furry friend should stay with you.
Going through a divorce is hard. Being a parent while going through a divorce is even harder. Navigating pet ownership during divorce? That might be the most difficult thing of all since there are no clear-cut rules in place about what’s supposed to happen.
Determining pet ownership during divorce
Keep these ideas and suggestions in mind if you’re currently going through a divorce. Putting your pet and your family first, should make your decision about what to do with your four-legged companion easier.