Divorce is a highly emotional event, especially when pets are involved. We live in an animal-centric culture where we tend to view our cats, dogs and other animals as children. So if you’re getting a divorce, you may wonder: Where will the pets live? Who gets custody of them?
A survey shows that 80% of pet owners view their pets as family members. However, under most state laws, pets are just another asset. They are seen as property, not children. In most divorces, if you and your spouse are unable to agree on custody and visitation, then the judge will look at who paid for the majority of the animal’s expenses. If your spouse paid for most of the food and vet bills, then it does not matter that you claim you loved your dog more.
Because of this, states are starting to recognize pets as more than just assets. Alaska, California and Illinois are several states that will recognize a pet’s best interests in a divorce case, much like the standard for child custody cases. They will determine what type of arrangement is best for the animal. More states are following suit, but Maryland does not yet have any laws allowing for pet custody. This can be an emotional situation for those who love their pets like they are their children.
If you can’t bear to live without your dog, cat, bird or other pet, it is your best interest to try to negotiate pet custody with your spouse. Try to agree on some form of shared ownership that works best for the both of you based on work schedules and finances. If you don’t, it could lead to a costly and lengthy court battle. Many people have spent their life savings—tens of thousands of dollars—to get custody of their beloved pets.
Pets are often seen as personal property, in which full possession is given to one person or the other. They are not children, in which you can agree on custody and visitation arrangements. Therefore, if that’s the kind of agreement you want, you’ll have to negotiate that on your own, outside of the courtroom. If you let the court decide, the judge will look at factors such as who spent the most time with the pet or who acted as their primary caregiver. If children are involved and they are also attached to the pet, that might be taken into consideration as well.
Many couples fight over children, but many couples have no kids and fight over custody of their pets instead. For the best result, you and your spouse will need to work together to determine who gets custody of Fluffy or Fido.
Maryland has no pet custody laws, but the Columbia divorce lawyers at The Law Offices of Todd K. Mohink, P.A. can help you and your spouse negotiate on this important issue. Schedule a consultation today. Call (410) 774-5987 or fill out the online form. We have two offices to serve you.
7310 Ritchie Highway, Suite 910
Glen Burnie, MD 21061
30 Corporate Center
10440 Little Patuxent Parkway,
Columbia, MD 21044