Who Gets the Dog? How Pet Custody Works in a Divorce
In 2018, the California Assembly legislatively recognized what divorce mediators have known for a very long time: Pet custody can be a crucial and sometimes contentious subject for certain divorcing couples. Pets are family members and it’s tough for people facing divorce to figure out how to best share the four-legged (or feathered or scaled) friends they love so dearly.
The California law, known as Assembly Bill 2274, allows courts to assign sole or joint ownership of pets. The court may also order one party to care for the animal during the proceedings, but that decision will not impact the final pet custody / ownership determination.
Our goal, however, is to help divorcing couples never reach the court stage and instead come to amicable agreements about the dissolution of their marriage, separation of property, alimony and child support, child custody, and — yes — pet custody.
What to Expect When Divorcing Your Pet’s Other Parent
Many people cannot imagine even one night away from their pet. Your divorce mediator will be well-versed in what seem like impossible negotiations. They will help you and your ex-spouse voice your concerns and desires regarding your pets, while helping you negotiate an ownership agreement both of you can live with. While the ultimate arrangement may not be your first choice (such as 100% custody), it should feel fair and manageable.
As you enter divorce mediation, take the time to consider these questions in advance so you will be prepared to discuss the nitty-gritty details of pet co-ownership.
Where will you and your ex live? Will your homes be close enough to share pet custody easily? And will each of your homes be appropriate for pet ownership?
For example, some apartment owners will not rent to people with large dogs or one of you might be moving in with family members who have cat allergies. In such cases, it may not be feasible to share custodial ownership. An option in this case is to arrange visits, such as weekly walks.
Do you have children?
If your children are attached to your pets, the pet ownership agreement may mirror the child custody agreement so that the kids are always near their pets.
How do your work schedules overlap?
If you live near one another and work different schedules, it may make sense for one person to take pet custody at night and the other person to have pet custody during the day.
How old is the pet?
If the pet is elderly or has special needs, consider if it’s more humane to have them stay in the home they are most familiar with.
How will you handle pet expenses?
With co-ownership agreements, it will make sense to share food, veterinary, and other pet costs. If one spouse prefers not to take on this monetary responsibility, it may help settle the pet custody question as well.
Did one spouse own the pet before the marriage?
Of course it’s very easy to get attached to animals, but if the pet belonged to your spouse prior to the marriage, consider if you prefer to take the high road and revert sole ownership back to them. Or, if the situation is vice versa, you may request that your ex do this if the pet was originally yours.
How often are you away from home, traveling or working?
If you or your ex are not home very often, consider how that affects the well-being of the pet and negotiate accordingly.
Overall, like child custody, it’s important to put egos, anger, and hurt feelings aside to truly consider what is best for your pet(s). Where will they be happiest and healthiest?
Get the Help You Need at South Bay Mediation
At South Bay Mediation, you can get the calm, unbiased mediation services that will help you work through thorny divorce issues like sharing pets. Our mediators have dozens of years of experience and can guide you to a divorce mediation agreement that will work for you and your ex spouse for years to come. Contact us today to learn more.
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