Courts in Louisiana have traditionally treated the beloved family pet as merely a piece of property that must be allocated after a couple ends their marriage. More recently, however, spouses have entered agreements over the care, custody and visitation rights for their pets after divorce.
Courts usually relied on the name of the spouse on the document for purchasing or adopting the pet to determine ownership. In the past, spouses also sometimes used the pet as leverage to obtain an agreement on a contested issue or to drag out divorce proceedings.
Many states have recently enacted laws, however, seeking to protect pets. Next year, California courts will have to assure that the pet is being cared for during pending divorces. In New York, courts must consider what is best for the owners and the pets. Illinois and Alaska now require consideration of the pet's well-being when determining which spouse should keep the pet in their care.
Couples in other states should consider making agreements or entering prenuptial agreements, known as matrimonial agreements in Louisiana. In addition to addressing many divorce issues such as support and property division, a prenup can set forth agreement concerning the custody and care of pets.
Pets are also important to any children the couple may have. Spouses can set forth a shared custody and visitation agreement regarding their pet that is based on their parenting schedule, so the pet and children can stay together. This create stability for children in a very difficult time in their lives and maintain their special bond with the pet.
A prenuptial agreement can also govern other important care matters. Pet owners can set forth payment of veterinary bills, pet insurance, care if a family travels and other daily expenses.
Pet ownership after a divorce is also being addressed through other methods. Pet rescue organizations are beginning to ask adoption applicants on how they will address ownership of the pet if their relationship ends. Couples who are already married can enter postnuptial agreements. Unmarried couples, who cannot enter prenuptial agreements, are entering written contracts concerning the care of their pets.
Each party should seek legal assistance to negotiate and draft agreements governing this important issue. This can help ensure that the agreement governs the needs of both the couple and the pet.