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What happens to pets if their owners decide to divorce?

Whether it is a dog, cat or other domestic animal, it goes without saying that our furry friends provide us with unconditional love and companionship. In fact, according to one 2015 survey, nearly 80 million households in the United States own a pet. Married spouses in Rhode Island with pets may find that they each have a strong emotional bond with their pet. This makes things very difficult should their marriage fail and they decide to divorce. What happens if each spouse want to have custody of their pet after the divorce is final?

While it may seem rather harsh, in general, courts view pets as property and the issue of who will get the pet is settled through property division. Judges do not like to spend much time on pets and parties should find a resolution before they come to court.  One way a spouse in Rhode Island can try to bolster their argument that they should be awarded the pet, is if there is proof that that spouse used their own pre-marital money to purchase and care for the pet. Of course, judges do have discretion in such cases, and some may take into account other factors, such as the best interests of the pet itself.

Some couples in Rhode Island informally decide, perhaps through mediation, to share the pet after they divorce, not unlike a shared child custody situation. However, an informal deal can be difficult to enforce in court, and generally, judges will not order custody hearings for pets.

When deciding who should keep the family pet, spouses in Rhode Island should consider whether they are capable of caring for their pet alone once the divorce is final. If they do not have the time or resources it takes to properly take care of their pet, they may decide that they will not pursue ownership of the pet. In the end, spouses need to put their pet's needs first, ensuring the pet ends up with the spouse that is best able to care for it and give it the love and attention it needs.

Source: Bloomberg, "In a Divorce, Who Gets to Keep the Family Dog?," Ben Steverman, April 29, 2016

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