Pet Custody in Divorce

April 11, 2020

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Many families include members with four paws instead of hands and feet. Pet custody or pet possession issues are seeing more litigation in divorce courtrooms in recent years.

You get the dining room table, I get the dog.

Like most states, Nebraska considers pets to be personal property, so they are technically subject to the same rules of equitable division in a divorce case as would be a dining room table or the couch.

Also, like any other personal property, because a dog can’t be split in half, if divorcing couples can’t agree on who gets custody of a pet after the divorce, the judge will make the decision who gets the pet.

My dog is my child.

As attitudes toward pets change and they are seen as more part of the family, the legal analysis is showing signs of changing, too. There are feelings attached to pets and many believe those feelings run both ways – not just from the human to the pet, but from the pet to the human as well.  Some judge may award visitation rights or joint custody of the pet. Because pets are still considered property, however, courts will usually term it something else, like “alternating possession.”

Who scoops the poop?

If you and your spouse can’t decide on  your own who will keep the pets, the judge will hear evidence from both sides who has the better claim to ownership.  Most often the court will look at factors like who was the animal’s primary caregiver – who walked the dog, scooped the poop, took the dog or cat to the vet and the groomer, bought the food, etc. Saying that scooping poop could win your case may be a bit of an overstatement, but it could be a factor in proving that you are the primary caregiver – which, for many courts, could be the deciding factor that firms up the finding for Fido.

Take control of Fido’s fate 

The alternatives a court might come up with if an agreement can’t be reached by you and your soon-to-be ex may not always be good ones.  A good way to avoid the possibility is to take control yourself through mediation.  In mediation, both parties sit down with a neutral third party who is trained to work out a solution to the pet custody problem – much like they would work out a solution to child custody issues.

When an issue has such emotional significance, it’s far too important to leave the decision in the hands of someone who wears a black robe. In our many years of practice, the attorneys at Hightower Reff Law have found that our clients are almost always more satisfied with – and more likely to follow – an agreement they reached themselves rather than an order handed down by a court.

What to look for in a lawyer

If your divorce involves a family pet that’s important to you, bring up the issue in your initial consultation with an attorney. Make sure your lawyer is familiar with pet custody or possession issues, understands that your pet is important and will take seriously your concerns and goals regarding your pet.

This article should not be construed as legal advice. Situations are different and it’s impossible to provide legal advice for every situation without knowing the individual facts. 

If you need help with your divorce case, contact Hightower Reff Law today and come visit with one of the attorneys at our Omaha office. 

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