There is no disputing the significance that Americans attribute to their pets. Surveys conducted by the American Pet Products Association indicate that 68 percent of households in the country own at least one pet. Animals frequently enjoy a status in the household well above that of "animal." In some cases, they are considered family.
Pet ownership can present unique challenges for couples considering divorce. Ownership disputes can be emotionally contentious. Resolving matters equitably under the law requires a particular understanding of how the process works.
Pets are property
According to experts, the anthropomorphizing of household pets is a common occurrence. However, the "furry child" identity ascribed to a pet is not acknowledged by the court. In Minnesota, animals are property. When pet issues arise as part of a divorce or separation, the issue becomes a question of ownership.
If one spouse owned the pet before the marriage, that spouse likely will be able to claim ownership of the pet in divorce. This can be demonstrated legally by supplying receipts and registration papers. If the pet was acquired during the marriage, it would likely be considered marital property and be subject to division.
Obviously, a living being cannot be split, so the court may sign a stipulated schedule allocating a certain amount of time with the pet to each party. Criteria the court might consider before signing off on an agreement would likely include:
- Record of care by each of the parties
- Any history of possible abuse
Couples who are unable to reach an agreement on pet ownership should consider working with an experienced and reputable attorney.