Family Pets and Divorce – Often Forgotten

Family Pets and Divorce – Often Forgotten

We often are so focused on the kids, the house or our own flood of hard emotions through divorce that we overlook the family pet.  More often than not, I have clients who have family pets and often they don’t know how they want to share or handle them as part of the separation or divorce.  This of course is a very emotional topic for most people.  Especially after long-term marriages, the family has come to consider their pet as a family member.

Normally, the couples I work with can reach an agreement about what is best and should happen with the family pet.  If there is a dog and a cat, maybe each party can take one animal.  What if Mom and Dad both love the family dog?   If children are involved, I usually suggest that the dog follow where the kids are living most of the time.  Some families continue to share in visitation with the pets.  This is great for the animals because they are still loved and have attention on several fronts.

Sharing the family pet gets much more complicated when you begin to consider vet bills or the expense of pet food and medicine.  It is always important to discuss the pets and the ramification of what is going to happen with them as a result of your divorce or legal separation.  I have some people who agree to split the costs which is memorialized formally in the divorce judgement.  Sadly, when the economy is down, I have had a few families have to give up their pet because they find themselves having to move to a smaller apartment that doesn’t take pets.

Regardless of your situation, family pet decisions need to be made at the time of divorce so there is no misunderstanding of what is going to happen with the animals.  I have had several cases involving horses and this can be a real burden on the party maintaining the horses.  It might be fair for both parents to kick in on the cost of housing and feeding a horse if their child is getting enjoyment out of the horse.  If, for example, the horse is only the Wife’s, then she alone may become responsible for such costs.

Of course each case is unique and it depends on a number of hard facts and circumstances.  One of my most memorable cases involved the family’s pet goat.  Both parties loved the goat and wanted full custody of the goat.  As silly as it sounds, we set up a goat visitation plan just like a child custody and parenting time plan and it worked!

When you are looking at separating, don’t forget to keep the animals and family pets in the equation so they can have the very best love and care.  Just like children, they don’t have a say in the family breakup but there is a big responsibility to make sure they are okay and well taken care of.  Like so many other items in divorce, people tend to lose sight of the family pet in divorce.  Also like so many other items in divorce, a peaceful collaborative discussion among all parties usually yields the longest lasting and most positive outcome for everyone.