Pet Custody: The Growing Trend ?

More than property – fur family!

In today’s world pets have become less “pets” and more furry members of the family. It has been trending for quite a few years that people are now giving their furbabies names that are more like actual baby names. According to the article “Forget Fido! Owner’s give pet’s human names” from, the increase in human names correlates with the increase in the bond between human and pet.  It used to be quite common that pets would only be outside animals who occasionally received human interaction while today pets often share the bed with their owners (if not sharing pillows as in my case). This growing trend of making animals members of the family makes divorces even more complicated because although people are often seeing their pets as children, in the eyes of the law, pets are seen as property.

A few years ago the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers did a study, and nearly one quarter of family law attorneys polled stated they have noticed an increase in pet-custody cases. People are already seeing their family and finances dissolving through the divorce, the last thing they want to lose is the never ending love of their best friend. Emotions are high and to lose an emotional companion could be the last straw. Sadly, though, even though the parties to the action realize that the animal is much more than their Star Wars DVD collection or a set of candle sticks, the law is still on the side of equating these furbabies to a bedroom set.  Luckily though, the Judges in the judicial system aren’t quite so black and white when it comes to deciding what is in the best interests of these furry little members of the family.

Pet Custody Agreements?
Pet Custody Agreements?

Cheryl Lynn Hepfer, former president of the AAML stated that most judges are sensitive to those couples struggling with the fate of the family pet. According to the Animal Legal Defense Fund, case law from a multitude of states has been illustrating the growing trend of pets as fur children. In Akers v. Sellers, 54 N.E.2d 779 (Ind. App. 1944) a couple was fighting over their beloved pup and the Court stated they would make their decision “with full realization that no man can be censured for the prosecution of his rights to the full limit of the law when such rights involve the comfort derived from the companionship of man’s best friend.” Id. at 779. Further, in a case from Alaska, the Court used a “best interest” standard to determine who would receive “custody” of the animal. Looking at the new case law evolving over the recognition of animals as more than just property has pushed the judicial system to consider pet custody along the same lines as child custody.

If you’re considering a divorce, think of what is in the “best interests” of your pet. When looking at that consider the following:

  1. Who takes the pet for walks?
  2. Who baths the pet?
  3. Who takes the pet the vet?
  4. Who spends the most time with the pet?
  5. Who feeds the pet?
  6. Who makes sure the pet gets the proper medication?
  7. Who financially supports the pet?
  8. Who emotionally supports the pet?
  9. Who cuts the pet’s nails?
  10. Who trained the pet?
  11. Who cleans up after the pet?
  12. Would the pet do best with a joint custody arrangement?
  13. How does your pet react when your spouse isn’t around?
  14. What would happen if you or your ex started dating someone who didn’t like pets?
  15. Can you handle a joint custody arrangement with your ex?

If you aren’t getting a divorce, but you see your pet as more than property, make sure you plan for your pet. You can incorporate your animal into your estate planning, contracts, domestic agreement or a post/prenuptial agreement. Planning is always the best option, and with the law changing, that means it’s inconsistent, and the last thing you want is to leave your furbabies’ fate to the black and white law that says he or she is merely property!

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