Pet Divorce

The Treatment of Pets in the Divorce Process

March 28th, 2017 by CLLB Law

Most people consider their pets to be part of the family. Many pets even get matching sweaters for the holiday photo cards and portraits. We take care of their needs, like they’re furry toddlers – only they can be left alone without much worry. Companion animals have been known to lower stress, teach children compassion, and help ease symptoms of depression. When it comes to divorce, deciding who gets Fluffy and Fido is just one of the many areas that has to be negotiated. Recently, pet custody has been a hot topic in courtrooms across the country, and Indiana is no exception.

Generally, animals are considered by the law as property, objects to be owned. Judges have been dividing up pets in the same way they divide up tables, kitchen appliances, and bedroom furniture. However, this way of thinking seems to be shifting. More than a quarter of the attorneys from the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) report seeing a great increase of pet custody cases in the last 15 years. In fact, Alaska just amended their divorce statutes to require courts to take “into consideration the well-being of the animal.” This groundbreaking legislation also allows joint custody, giving the family pet a chance to experience time with both parties, similar to child custody cases.

In Indiana, there is no legal obligation by the court to consider pets as anything other than property, so this issue can be decided by the parties themselves as part of their property distribution. It can be an emotionally wrenching situation, because resentment, sadness, fear, and anger tend to take over when decisions such as these are underway. Some divorcing spouses have even been known to use the family pet as leverage or demand primary ownership even if the animal was closer to the other spouse. If the parties can’t agree, the judge may award the pet to the custodial parent of the children so that these innocent parties stay together, to the person who purchased the pet, the person who licensed the pet, or the primary caretaker of the pet.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund suggests that if your ex is being difficult about a custody arrangement, or you are simply trying to do what’s best, seek out an attorney who cares about that aspect of the situation. Then, gather proof that you were the one who adopted or purchased the animal. All hope is not lost if such evidence doesn’t exist, however. Trying to prove that you are the primary caregiver and should therefore continue being the primary caregiver is a good next step. Receipts from the vet, groomer, trainer, grocery store, etc., show not only financial responsibility, but also care-giving responsibility. Maybe there were neighbors who always saw you on walks with your pet or at the dog park who could testify on your behalf.

Divorce is hard enough without also facing the loss of your beloved pet. If you have any questions about this topic, you can find out more by discussing it with one of the divorce attorneys at Church, Langdon, Lopp, Banet Law. We have years of experience helping people in divorce and custody cases, and we can help you. Based in New Albany, Indiana, we proudly serve communities throughout Kentucky and Indiana including, but not limited to, Jefferson County, KY; Floyd County, IN; Clark County, IN; and Harrison County, IN. Contact us by calling (812) 725-8224 or using our online form.