Ending a marriage involves numerous difficult issues, such as child custody and support, property division and spousal support. Recently, pet custody has become a more important divorce issue, even though there is little legal guidance over it.
Millennials have less children than their predecessors, but more pets. A 2016 report showed that 75 percent of Americans in their 30’s have dogs and 51 percent have cats. However, New York and most other states treated this beloved member of the family as just another piece of property that was allocated to one of the spouses. Generally, the spouse who paid most of the bills for the care of the pet was awarded ownership.
Courts and legislatures recently began to realize that pets perceive and feel emotions and their environment and have interests. Illinois, California and Alaska approved laws since 2017 that allow judges to consider the pet’s well-being instead of the couple’s desires when awarding custody of the animal. Judges may grant custody and ownership to both spouses and allow the pet to go back and forth from their homes.
Couples in New York and other states should try to negotiate custody of custody, visitation and care of the family pet and keep this issue out of court. Negotiations should also include payment of its care, which averages $1,000 each year or who cares for the animal of a spouse when they leave town at the last minute, among other things.
Mediation before a neutral party can also address this and other divorce issues, if the spouses cannot reach an agreement, in a less adversarial setting. This process is often faster and cheaper than undergoing litigation. Mediation is also confidential and any statements or made during mediation cannot used against either spouse.
A prenuptial agreement before a couple marries can also address this custody and other matters such as property division. Negotiating these agreements, also known as a petnup for the pets, can resolve these issues and expedite a divorce if it ever occurs. These can always be amended as the couple’s situation changes.
An attorney can help couples fetch a fair and reasonable resolution of these matters. They can also help spouses pursue their rights in court.