According to the National Pet Owner’s Survey, 63 percent of all households in the United States currently own a pet. However, even though your pet may feel like a member of the family to you and your spouse, a Maryland court won’t usually see them this way. Under the law, pets are property. This means that the court will include each pet in your property distribution settlement, awarding it to either you or your spouse. If you and your spouse both want to keep the family pet, however, it’s better to reach an agreement on your own, rather than allowing the judge to decide.
Solution 1: Work out your own custody agreement.
The court may not be willing to establish a pet custody agreement, but you and your spouse can still make one on your own if you are both willing to follow it. Putting it in writing with the rest of your property settlement can make it enforceable by the court. Create an agreement that works well with your schedules and allows both of you to spend time with the pet. This solution works best when you and your spouse are divorcing amicably, and if you don’t have a problem meeting on a regular basis to transfer the pet.
Solution 2: Pet follows the kids.
If you have children as well as a pet, consider allowing your pet to follow the same visitation schedule as the children to minimize confusion. This also provides more normalcy for the pet and the kids by allowing them to stay together regardless of which home they are currently visiting.
Solution 3: Negotiate.
If making a custody agreement for your pet is not a possibility, try to convince your spouse to let you keep the animal in exchange for other property or even a cash settlement.
Solution 4: Split the pets.
If you have more than one pet, consider splitting the animals with your spouse instead of fighting over them. Although this may cause you both short-term pain, it could be the best possible choice in a situation where a pet custody agreement isn’t feasible.
Solution 5: Think of your pet’s best interests.
If you and your spouse cannot agree on a pet custody agreement or any other solution, do what is best for the pet by allowing it to stay with the person who can provide the most attention and care. If this person is you, appeal to your spouse’s love for the pet and encourage him or her to let go. If you honestly believe that your spouse would provide better care, then at least consider being willing to sacrifice for the good of the creature you love.
The team at the DiPietro Family Law Group has many years of experience dealing with a variety of complicated divorce cases, including those that involve a beloved family pet. Please reach out to us at (888) 530-4374 to set up a case evaluation today.