According to the American Pet Products Association, roughly 80 million American households have a pet. Many Minnesota married couples who don’t want to or cannot have children may decide to get a pet in lieu of a son or daughter. Therefore, those couples may treat their pets like children, and they may want shared or sole custody of that pet in the event of a subsequent divorce. However, courts have said little about the issue.
Traditionally, courts have treated pets as personal property. This is despite the fact that a pet has more sentimental value than any real monetary value on the open market. In many cases, a pet can cost a lot of money to maintain. Typically, it is the emotional attachment that can turn custody of an animal into something worth bargaining for in a divorce settlement.
Courts can award a pet to one individual if he or she can show that separate money was used to acquire or care for the pet. The best interest of the pet may also determine who gets it after the divorce. However, courts will generally not hold custody hearings regarding animals like they would with a child. While separate pet custody agreements may be created outside of the divorce decree, they may or may not be taken seriously if challenged in court.
A pet custody dispute can often become as contentious as one involving a child. When this happens, the couple’s respective family law attorneys may suggest that it be addressed in mediation sessions that will also cover other issues that cannot be resolved through negotiations.