Joel W. Anders, P.C.
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Can you share pet custody in divorce like celebrities do?

A popular young celebrity announcing the split from their spouse recently included a statement about custody of their pets. In their official announcement of the end of their union, they felt it was important to announce that they would share custody of their pets with their ex. While that might seem like celebrity nonsense on the surface, it's an increasingly common trend in divorce.

Anyone who has opened their home up to a companion animal can understand why celebrities address concerns about their pets in divorce. Even if you have children, or perhaps particularly if you do have children with an emotional attachment to your pet, you may worry about the outcome of your divorce on your ability to see or spend time with your pet.

Every state has its own approach, and California is one of the states that allows judges to hear custody issues related to animals. The family courts in Washington DC, however, are not as open to litigation about the custody of pets.

The courts don't want to hear arguments about who gets the dog

Unfortunately, while you may have and a deep and abiding love for your animals, the courts acknowledge them as nothing more than possessions worth a finite amount of money. The courts can and do allocate custody of the animals to one spouse or the other, but they do so while treating pets as assets, not members of the family.

The financial value of the animal will influence other areas of the asset division process. The judge may simply allocate the dog to one or the other spouse, although they may consider who seems to have the more developed bond with the animal, or the person who can spend more time with it or better provide for it.

If you want shared custody, work toward an uncontested divorce

Unless you addressed the issue of pet custody in prenuptial or postnuptial agreement documents, the only opportunity you have to create a legally binding shared custody situation for your companion animal will be through the creation of your own agreement with your spouse.

Going through mediation or negotiating through your attorneys to create a settlement agreement and file an uncontested divorce can involve setting a wide range of terms, including shared custody for your pet. While the courts are unlikely to commit to creating a custody arrangement for an animal, they may very well approve one provided that the rest of the plan is legal and reasonable.

If you worry about retaining custody of or access to a beloved pet in your divorce, talking about that wish with your attorney early in the process can improve your ability to secure the outcome you want in your divorce.

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