Pet Custody in Divorce

Pet Custody in Divorce

The majority of American households own at least one pet, including many families going through a divorce. A couple of animal lovers that consider their pets to be family members may be prepared to fight for custody of their fur-babies. Sadly, sometimes one spouse may use the other’s bond with the family pet as emotional extortion to gain something of financial value during the divorce process. Occasionally, pet custody matters will be heard in the courtroom for the judge to decide. As these cases become more and more common, some states are passing legislation to help family courts decide on pet custody in divorce.

Pets Are Personal Property in South Carolina

Alaska recently became the first state to amend its laws to require family law judges to consider the “wellbeing of the pet” in divorce cases. The new law also allows a judge to enforce joint legal custody of the family’s animals. In the last few years, similar pet custody bills have been considered in several other states, including California, Wisconsin, and Rhode Island.

While there is no dollar figure that can be placed on the family dog or cat, pets are still considered personal property in South Carolina. Legally speaking, pets are marital property to be divided equitably between the spouses, like furniture and appliances. Judges encourage couples to work out pet custody issues amongst themselves, but mediation may be a useful tool for a couple going through an animal custody battle.

How Does a Judge Decide Who Keeps the Pet?

There are currently no laws referencing pet custody in divorce cases in South Carolina, South Carolina divorce cases, but if the issue is brought before the Court, a judge may consider the following questions before making a decision:

  • Who did the pet belong to before marriage? If one spouse adopted Fido before the couple was married, the judge may decide he is the primary owner of the dog.
  • Who takes care of it? If the couple adopted a pet together, the primary caregiver may be awarded ownership of the animal.
  • What is in the best interest of the pet? A judge may look at the individual’s ability to financially care for the pet, spend quality time with it, and provide a good environment for the pet before deciding who should be granted ownership.
  • Who has custody of the children? Although pets are not considered children in family law cases, a judge may decide the home that is best for the children is also the best place for the family dog or cat.
  • Is shared custody an option? In some situations, shared custody or visitation of the family cat or dog may be the best solution for divorcing couples. Keep in mind a lack of precedent might make these agreements difficult to legally enforce.
  • Is there a history of domestic abuse? If domestic violence, child abuse, or neglect is an issue in a divorce, the judge will consider these factors before allowing a pet to remain in a home where it could be at risk of abuse.

Get Help Today

If you are considering a divorce, it is important to secure skilled representation to protect your rights and interests. Contact the experienced divorce lawyers at Klok Law Firm LLC to schedule a consultation today.