Which party takes care of the family pet and their basic daily needs for such things as food, shelter, potty walks or litter box maintenance, exercise, grooming, and supervision? Who takes the pet to the veterinarian? In the case the pet is a dog, which party insures the family pet gets plenty of social interaction with other dogs and people, and sees to their training?
Who has the greatest ability to financially support the family pet? If you and your spouse are splitting up and there is a family pet involved, my hope is that you will put the animal’s best interests first.
All Family Pets Need Consistency
Especially during and after a family breakup, a family pet should live where there’s an established daily routine in which things happen on a predictable schedule. For example, if one of you is always home by 5:30 pm while the other works a lot of overtime, the pet should spend most of his time with the spouse who’s home in the evenings.
Determining custody of the family pet is easy if the pet was purchased before the marriage or was given as a gift during marriage. Under either circumstance, the family pet would be considered that person’s separate property and no other person has no right to the pet.
Proving Ownership of a Family Pet
Courts look to see whom “bought and paid for the family pet, paid license taxes for keeping it, and procured a collar for it with initials engraved on it. See O’Rourke v. Finch (1908) 9 Cal. App. 324. The tricky part is that one spouse can transmute their separate property into community property by a signed writing. So, if the spouse who bought the family pet before marriage registers the pet under both spouses names, the other spouse can argue that the registration was a written transmutation of separate property into community property.
Questions to Help you Decide Who Gets the Family Pet
- Is one spouse going to stay in the family house that has the dog run or fenced back yard and the other is moving to a small apartment?
- Does your dog or cat have animal buddies in the neighborhood?
- Is one spouse moving abroad after the divorce? Quarantine and local regulations may make it challenging to bring family pets.
- Who is the primary caretaker? Who takes the pets to the vet, buys food and supplies, walks the dogs or cleans the kitty litter box, and generally spends the most time with your pets?
- Can you put your own feelings aside and think about what is really in your pet’s best interest? Try to look at this situation from the pet’s point of view.
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