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Family pets are treated as property in divorce

A growing concern for Rhode Island residents seeking a divorce is who will get custody of the family pet. Divorce attorneys say that decisions about who gets the family pet is becoming a more common issue that can make or break a divorce settlement. Some attorneys are even suggesting couples make arrangements regarding their pet in prenuptial agreements.

Many pet owners may view their pets as family members and feel that the matter should be viewed similarly to a child custody issue. State law, however, continues to view pets as property and will apply state property law. Rhode Island follows equitable distribution law in determining property division. This means that marital property is divided based on what the court finds to be fair and reasonable.

In dividing property, the court may consider the length of the marriage, contributions of each spouse to marital property and each spouse's income among several other factors. The court presumes that both spouses have contributed equally to the acquisition of property during the marriage, whether such property is jointly or separately held, and therefore, should be divided equitably. The law of equitable distribution applies to property such as a home or furniture.

If the couple is leaving it up to the court to determine who will get the pet, the judge will apply the same law it would apply in dividing up any other asset. A judge can easily award an animal to one party or the other, and they will not consider a shared custody or visitation agreement. For this reason, attorneys suggest that couples should settle the matter with a civil agreement, separate from the main divorce settlement.

Source: News4Tuscon, "Investigating pet custody post divorce," May 8 2012

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