Many Washington couples consider their pets as a part of their family. However, they may be shocked to learn that the law does not agree. If the couple decides to divorce, pets are considered to be property, like cars and homes, and the family pet will likely be included in a property settlements. With nearly 63 percent of households owning pets, it is not surprising that custody battles involving pets are increasing. According to a survey of a group of divorce attorneys, about 25 percent of respondents noticed an increase in pet custody cases.
In a 1994 case in Florida, one judge gave the ex-husband custody of his dog, which he had owned prior to the marriage and was thus considered a premarital asset. However, the judge gave visitation rights to the woman, allowing her to see the dog on certain days. However, the court later determined that the woman did not have the right to visit the dog as ongoing disputes concerning pet custody would overwhelm an already strained justice system.
Cases like these may be on the rise because of a number of factors. Emotional attachment to the animals may be coupled with an increase in financial investment. According to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, pet owners spent $24 billion dollars on their pets in 1994. In 2014, pet owners are expected to spend $41 billion on their pets.
When a couple decides to divorce, they must come to terms regarding who will be awarded what assets, including the home, any vehicles owned and even pets. An experienced Washington family law attorney may be able to help a party through negotiations to make sure that marital assets are split in a way that is fair to everyone involved.
Source: The Huffington Post, "Who Gets The Pets In A Divorce? What You Need To Consider When Fighting Over Fido", Maria Moya, January 19, 2014