If you're like many people with divorce in your future, you may be concerned with who gets custody of your domestic pets. Because pets are considered by the law to be personal property, any pets that you had prior to the marriage will legally be considered to be yours when you leave the marriage. The legal waters get a little muddy, however, when they involve pets that you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse have adopted together. Although each jurisdiction is different, and pet custody issues are relatively new in the legal landscape, there are certain questions that courts in all 50 states will consider when deciding on pet custody matters. Following are five of them.
Who Paid for the Pet?
If one party actually paid for the pet instead of joint funds being used for the purchase, this will likely have a significant effect on the court's decision concerning custody of the animal. Whether you bought the pet from a breeder or paid the shelter costs involved in an adoption, be prepared to be able to prove that you provided the funds when the pet was purchased.
Who Spends the Most Time With the Pet?
The court will also look at which party spends the most time with the pet. If you're the one who takes the pet for walks, feeds it, and make sure it gets to veterinarian appointments, the courts will likely view you favorably in matters of pet custody.
Does Either Party Have a History of Animal Abuse?
If either party has a documented history of animal abuse, the courts will be less likely to grant that person custody of domestic pets. If your soon-to-be ex-spouse doesn't have a criminal history of animal abuse, the court may take the testimony of credible witnesses into consideration.
Is the Pet a Service or Support Animal?
This one is pretty much a no-brainer. If the pet in question is a service or support animal, the courts will award full custody to the person the animal provides these services for. However, it's important to be able to prove this to the court, so be sure to provide your divorce attorney with any and all relevant paperwork.
What About the Children?
In cases where domestic pets and children have significant bonds, the courts are likely to rule in the favor of the parent who ends up with primary custody of the children. Your divorce lawyer will be able to provide you with more information on pet custody laws in your jurisdiction.
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