The law has not kept up with the love and devotion that families have for their pets. In Louisiana and 47 other states, ownership of the dog or cat is decided as property division instead of custody. Couples, however, can deal with these outdated practices.
Except for Alaska and Illinois, pets are legally classified as property that can be sold like furniture or other personal property. A family court judge can decide who receives the pet while ruling on other property matters. This diminishes animal rights and does not consider the affection that spouses have for their dogs or cats.
In some cases, courts have ordered the spouses to sell the pet. Or, they order one spouse buy it from the other.
Some courts however, understand the importance of pets to families. In some cases, courts ordered pet custody that is comparable to the children's schedule or award pet custody to the parent who has the most time with their children.
However, this type of resolution is unavailable to childless couples. This often leaves judges with other limited options such as trying to have the spouses work out an agreement or relying on limited animal welfare laws.
Animal rights advocates are seeking legal changes so pets are treated as living and feeling beings with certain rights. Adoption of laws like Alaska and Illinois could also impact legal cases impacting emotional support animals and veterinary malpractice cases.
Couples are not powerless and can seek their own fair resolution that takes the pet's interests into consideration. They can enter a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement that govern pet custody and address other pet care issues such as expenses and veterinary treatment.
In divorce negotiations or mediation, couples can also try to resolve these matters and enter an agreement that can be incorporated into the decree. These methods help assure that the couple can have a resolution that reflects the animal's rights and their feelings without having a court order imposed upon them following a potentially lengthy, contentious and court battle.
A family law attorney can help a spouse seek legally-valid and reasonable options to address this and other divorce legal issues. Attorneys can help assure that their rights are protected in mediation, litigation and other negotiations.