Divorce does more than finalize the end of a marriage. Divorce divides all of the property that each couple has amassed and comingled together during the period of their marriage. Many people are surprised or even shocked when an attorney explains to them that their beloved dog, cat or other household pet is considered property under the law. Animals are an asset on the list for property division even though it is a living, breathing companion.
Contrary to the average pet owner's natural reaction, most family court judges will not take the time to determine a custody agreement for the family pet. Most judges will simply take the animal into account as much as they would any other household property. Even though animals are considered property, pet parents do not have to fret. Pet custody arrangements are possible because although the law sees them as property, the truth is that they are very important and often considered a member of the family.
One of the best and most cost-effective options is to amicably draft a pet custody agreement. They can set terms that vary from simple to utterly complex. The sky is the limit when it comes to drafting your own agreement during a divorce. A second option is to enlist a mediator who can assist a couple through their negotiation process if they find that they are having trouble doing so on their own. If the parties want a quick and sure decision, they can even go to an arbitrator who will listen to the arguments and make a single decision.
In some instances a court judge may even allow a property argument that leans closer towards a custody agreement. Although there are not set standards, the judge may consider factors such as whether or not the pet was owned prior to the marriage, who took daily care of the pet or who made most of the payments for bills.
Source: Chicago Now "I'm Taking The Dog" Michael Helfand 11/3/10