Pet "Custody" In The World Of Divorce

The world of family law is constantly evolving both legally and sociologically. Young people are divorcing before they have children and older people are divorcing after their children are grown. Consequently, the family pet has taken on a more important role.

It is not unusual to have a client concerned over who will get "custody and primary residence" of the family pet and the visitation that will ensue. Additional expenses for the vet, grooming, and doggie daycare have also become part of the issues that concern divorcing couples.

But in Connecticut, as in most other states, the family pet is considered personal property subject to distribution under Conn. Gen. Stat. §46b-81. Although it may seem heartless, Fido will spend the majority of his life according to the rules of equitable distribution.

Connecticut couples do have the option of setting out specific provisions for their pet's future in a Separation Agreement that includes terms prohibiting the giving away or selling of family pets as well as financial arrangements for the care of the animal. If the Agreement is found to be fair and equitable under the facts of the case, it will be incorporated into the final judgment.

As a dog lover of major proportions, I advise my clients to do the following:

  1. Form an Agreement that prohibits the sale or gifting of your pet.
  2. Set out a schedule whereby your pet has optimal care with financial responsibility of each party set forth clearly.
  3. Make sure your pet has adequate living quarters and a custodian who will make him or herself available as necessary.
  4. Make sure the pet has reasonable opportunity to exercise and to be fed according to schedule.
  5. The pet should have access to veterinary care with financial responsibility delineated.

It is a measure of our society to treat all creatures well whether or not they have fur. During a time of crisis, when unconditional love is important, our family pets may be the only creatures who deliver.