With more couples choosing not to have children, custody battles over pets instead of kids are becoming more common. In an ideal world, couples who divorce can come to an amicable agreement, maybe the cat always seemed to bond more to one person than the other for example, but if both partners want to keep their pet, how can it be resolved?
Pets and Divorce in Australian Law
There’s a long history of pet custody disputes in the United States, where some courts will look at the best interests of the pet when deciding who should keep him or her. UK law, however, looks at a pet purely as property, and it goes into the couple’s joint assets that get divided and allocated to one person as part of the judge’s decision, and the same goes here in Australia.
Treating your pet cat or dog as property means that once the decision is made, and the pet is awarded to one party, there aren’t any issues of access rights, like there would be in a custody battle over children, so in some ways it can make it easier.
What this doesn’t take into account, however, is that treating animals as property doesn’t look at the emotional well-being of the pet, the ‘losing’ party and any children involved that may now lose access to their beloved family pet. Sadly, the emotional attachment to a pet can lead to the custody situation turning into a power struggle.
When it does get to court as part of a divorce, the judge is likely to look at factors such as who purchased the pet, who is the main caregiver, who pays for the majority of the care (food, vet bills etc.), and where any children will be living.
What to Consider if You’re Facing a Pet Custody Battle
> Try to think about it dispassionately.
It’s likely that both of you are going to want to keep your cat, but try to think about the cat’s best interests. Is one of you the primary caregiver? Will your cat be traumatised by having to move house, or leave a beloved pet parent behind?
> Are there children involved?
If the children aren’t going to be living with you, is it in their best interest for you to have custody of the cat?
> Try to arrange custody between yourselves.
If it doesn’t become a matter for the courts, you’re more likely to be able to compromise with each other. If your split is amicable, then it might be that shared custody could work for you, or it might be easy for the person who doesn’t keep custody to visit regularly.
> Get as much as possible in writing.
Even if custody goes to your ex, try to get a written agreement that sets out access arrangements and restrictions that mean the other person can’t give the cat away. Even though such an agreement wouldn’t be legally binding, it can have some sway if it goes back to court.
Have you ever faced a custody battle with your ex for your cat or dog? Please share…
Image: Mark Patterson II via Flickr