Custody of Pets: What Happens During Divorce Mediation

By Gerald A. Maggio, Esq.

orange county divorce mediation; California Divorce MediatorsAnyone with pets knows that they are as well loved as a family member. So divorce can be a difficult time for families with pets, not the least of which is because your precious four legged friends are treated as another ‘asset’. The system works rather differently for custody of pets, compared to when it is considering the custody of children. If you had written this into your prenuptial agreement, then things will be cut and dry. If not, be prepared for hard negotiations during mediation.

Pets before marriage

If a pet was one of the partners’, before marriage, then during divorce proceedings it is almost always that spouse who gets sole custody of the pet. However, if you bought the pet together during your marriage, it becomes like any other marital asset.

The importance of divorce mediation

When it comes to things like marital assets, debt, and other financial aspects of the divorce, you can rely on outside help to make smart choices. But when it comes to your pets, there’s no better person to make that decision than you and your soon to be ex. If the pet is important to both of you, you may need to work out a custody sharing arrangement where the pet splits time between two homes – yours and your ex’s.

Think of where the pet would be most comfortable and happy

Use the divorce mediation process to have frank and open discussions and weigh the pros and cons of the pet staying with each of you. Keep in mind the interests of your pet, and not just your desire to be with your beloved furry friend. For instance, if your spouse has a larger home in the suburbs or a good park nearby for your pet to run around and play in, while you are in a studio in the city, it may be better to take your pet on only weekends when you can drive him somewhere to enjoy the outdoors. Also factor in which of you was the primary caregiver when you were together. Will your spouse be able to manage all the jobs like cooking up meals, taking the dog or cat out for a walk or playtime?

Making your case for custody

To build a case for yourself, should the custody issue be challenged, prepare documentary proof and perhaps even a testimony from the veterinarian, neighbours and others who can confirm that you had primary responsibility for the pet during the marriage.

When kids are involved

For families that have pets, it is usually best to have the pets go wherever the kids are going to be, or to work out a similar arrangement so that the kids can hold on to that emotional constant during this difficult time.

The costs of pet custody

Remember there is no formal pet support payment though this can be worked out as part of alimony arrangements or figured out as part of the settlement during divorce mediation. Do factor in the costs if you do get awarded primary custody, because bringing up pets can be expensive.

How pets get used as leverage

Beware of letting your emotions get the better of you. If you and your spouse are parting on less than amicable terms, he or she might use your emotional attachment to the pet to fight you on custody. And it may not even matter that he or she doesn’t love the pet as much, or really care where it goes. This may be done with the sole purpose of having you give up on some financial aspects of the divorce settlement that you are also battling it out on.

To learn more about the divorce process in California and how mediation can help, please visit our page, What is Divorce Mediation.