Pet Pre-Nups, Visitation Rights, and Alimony: The Realities Of Pet Ownership and Divorce

What takes the biggest toll during a divorce? A study by Fidelity Investments reveals that 56% of recent divorcees describe the emotional toll as very stressful and 43% admit finances cause stress during a divorce. That leaves many loving pet parents wondering: where does the dog or cat come in? Believe it or not, more divorce advice and mediation tackles questions about whether pets count as objects, children, or something else entirely than you might think.


Here are some things you need to know about pets and divorce.


It Is Possible To Secure A Pet Pre-Nup


More and more often, when couples discuss prenups or premarital plans, attorneys are overtly asking them if they own pets. Pet pre-nuptial agreements or premarital plans work exactly like traditional premarital plans. In other words, an attorney or divorce mediator will help you come to a suitable agreement about what happens to animals in the event of a divorce. Often, one partner grows more attached to a particular animal, and contentions during divorce can get much more heated than people might think. Lawyers are working with parties to decide the custody and visitation rights in regards to cats, dogs, horses, and–in rare cases–even birds and reptiles. According to The Guardian, one in 20 married couples with pets currently have a pet prenup in place.


How Are Pets Treated During Divorce?


When you are looking for help with divorce and particularly about how to treat pets during divorce, unfortunately, the answers are not necessarily straightforward. In most cases, the answer to how pets are treated during divorce is, “It depends.” First, it depends on what state you live in. In nearly all states and up until recently, divorce courts and divorce mediators treated pets the same way as personal property. Now, Alaska, California, and Illinois introduced laws asking courts to take pets’ welfare into account, as they would with children.


When pets are treated as personal property, courts determine ownership and, from there, determine whether the pet will go to one partner or be split 50/50 (in this case, whether the couple will get joint custody).


In Illinois, Alaska, and California, custody agreements, visitation rights, and even alimony or pet care costs may come into question. Judges may consider who walks pets, who regularly feeds and attends to pets, and who takes the pet or pets to the vet when necessary.


The important thing is to make sure to bring up all important matters when meeting with your divorce attorney. Remember, divorce mediators have seen it all. It is normal to have disagreements about dogs and cats during a divorce. There is even a great deal of advice out there to help you deal with any anxiety your dog may feel during the divorce process and help your dog adjust to its new normal following a divorce.


What If You’re Not Married?


Today, as many as 5.5 million unmarried couples live together in the U.S. Living together involves many of the same things as marriage, like sharing bills, children, and pets–and that means fraught arguments about pet custody after a breakup can be just as prevalent among unmarried couples. The good news is that divorce mediators do not work with official divorcees alone. Many are happy to work with unmarried couples with children, pets, and/or couples who have been living together for quite some time and share many of the same assets.


While the legal requirement to split property 50/50 may not exist in these circumstances, a mediator can help couples discuss who gets what in a calm and levelheaded manner. Yes, that includes pets, too! Mediators can help make it legal, too. If you are worried your partner may not agree to your visits with your dog over time, draft up and sign a legal document with a lawyer and make sure you have some ground to stand on.


Over half of us consider pets family, according to an Associated Press poll. Do not let the custody and care of your furry family members go by the wayside. Call a divorce attorney today and ask about mediation for married couples or unmarried couples with pets!