Pets can be a source of excitement, happiness, and comfort. They are often seen as members of the family, which is why many people refer to them as their “furry children.” In fact, a pet often acts as a surrogate child for many younger married couples, who delay having children until they are financially ready.
Having a “child-like” pet with your spouse can be wonderful—until you get a divorce.
As reported in the Huffington Post, there has been a significant jump in “dog fights” between divorcing couples disputing custody of family pets. A recent survey of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers found that 27 percent of divorce lawyers have seen a rise in the number of couples fighting over pets in the last five years.
The results of the survey showed that 22 percent of the divorce attorneys saw courts more often allow pet custody cases. Twenty percent felt that the courts have increasingly deemed the pet to be an asset.
The vast majority of the disputes, at 88 percent, involved dogs. Cats followed in a distant second, at 5 percent. One couple even fought over a 130-pound turtle.
Pets, unlike children, are considered property under South Carolina law. However, Charleston family court judges must still decide who will get possession of the dog or cat if the divorcing husband and wife cannot agree.
Courts across the country are starting to recognize that divorcing spouses have a different relationship with their pets than they do with, say, a couch. (Both are considered property, but a couch clearly does not have an emotional connection with its owner.)
Some judges in other states are now considering the “best interests” of pets, much like they would for children. For example, they have ruled that it is in the best interest of a pet to stay in the care of the person who was its primary caretaker throughout its life.
If you and your spouse are going through a divorce and are fighting over your pet, consider taking a step back and thinking about its needs. Who has the most time to care for it? If one of you works long hours, your pet should reside with the person who has more free time to spend socializing with it. Who has the resources to best care for it? Pets can be expensive, and certain pets have specific needs. Large dogs, for example, may need space to exercise. If one of you will live in an apartment after the divorce is finalized, this may not be an ideal space for your pet.
If you have questions about getting custody of your pet in your divorce, contact The Peck Law Firm for advice from an experienced Charleston family law attorney.