Jacquelyn S. Gonz, Attorney At Law Llc

Pet custody in divorce

There are many issues in divorce. It's a legal dissolution of a partnership. A partnership where people share children, property and everything that comes with day-to-day life. One common issue where couples disagree is the family pet. 

What is marital property?

Marital property refers to anything a couple has acquired during their marriage. Even if one spouse bought something, the other has partial ownership in most cases. State law requires equitable distribution of this property when you divorce, meaning each side gets equal value and you split up your property.

Negotiation is never easy, but items like jewelry, sports memorabilia, art and china have personal meaning that often makes property division easier. Pets, however, tend to be loved by both sides. By Missouri law, a pet is a form of property, even though he or she is a living, breathing part of the family.

Changing perspectives

It's humbling to think of the family pet as a piece of property to be bought and sold but, legally speaking, that's the categorization for a dog, cat or any other animal. A recent survey of lawyers found that pet custody disputes are most common with dogs, at 88 percent of cases, with cats, horses and others ranking significantly lower.

While state law considers a dog a piece of marital property, some other states are looking at pets in a way. Illinois passed a new law in 2017, inspired by an existing law in Alaska, which considers the "best interests of the pet." When a divorcing couple can't reach their own agreement, now the judge will consider compassion and care, instead of looking strictly at monetary value.

Pets are a part of the family

Unless one spouse owned the pet prior to marriage, it's common to have a bond with your pet that you don't want to sever when you split apart. In an era where pets are a key piece of the family, it can be heartbreaking to lose custody over an animal who has been at your side for years.

Some divorced couples opt for visitation rights with their pets, and others find new, creative solutions to fit their needs. An experienced Missouri divorce attorney can help you to review your own situation to find a workable solution for your settlement. Divorce is a fresh start, but it doesn't have to mean the loss of a loved family member.

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