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Relationships Built On Trust

A central contention in many divorces: What about the family pet?

by | Dec 11, 2013 | Property Division

Well, they’re not exactly kids, but, in a sense and to the people who love them, they can certainly seem like children.

Pets unquestionably occupy a special niche in millions of families across the country, including in Colorado, with Americans having a veritable love affair with the animals they live with and provide for.

And when human relationships sour, those beloved pets can become focal points of contention.

And when they do, the question that can often loom large in many divorces and that must ultimately be decided sometimes by a judge is this: Who gets the pet?

For many persons in a nation of animal lovers, it can be somewhat shocking, and even galling, to discover that most courts simply view animals as property — either separate or marital — that is subject to distribution under a state’s laws regulating property division. In Colorado, that means equitable property distribution, pursuant to which a court will determine what is fair based upon a number of factors.

Historically, that hasn’t often meant that judges take a great amount of time determining what is in the best interests of the family dog, cat or other animal that can only live with one divorcing spouse going forward. Rather, in many cases they have simply tended to put pressure on combating parties to work things out outside of court.

That sometimes can’t be accomplished, though, and more cases are being seen these days in which increased time and effort is being spent in court to determine an animal’s proper placement.

A recent case in Brooklyn, New York, is representative, with a judge there scheduling oral arguments to determine a dog’s interests in a divorce matter. He noted that pet custody cases are becoming more numerous.
“[M]ost pet owners would not trade their pets for even $1 million in cash,” the judge recently stated. He added that, with judicial resources being spent on determining distribution of things like homes and cars, “there is certainly room to give real consideration to a case involving a treasured pet.”

Source:New York Post, “Landmark custody battle over dog in divorce,” Julia Marsh, Dec. 4, 2013