In a divorce, future living arrangements are often the most contentious issues. This is certainly true for children. But in a society where pets are increasingly seen as members of the family on par with kids, the animosity often extends to where they will live as well.
Unfortunately, while you may view your pet as a member of the family, Indiana law does not. There are no statutes or case law precedents that require or even favor treating pets as members of the family for which a custody agreement can be imposed by the court. Rather, pets are considered personal property and will be treated as such by the court. Therefore, it is best that you settle the issue of a pet’s living arrangements among yourselves.
This can happen in a couple different ways. The first is an informal arrangement whereby the divorcing couple simply agrees on custody arrangements, and visitation if so desired, and sticks to the agreement between themselves. If you desire a more formal arrangement, an agreement can be hammered out between the parties, and it will be governed by the same contract laws that govern any other private contract.
If the parties cannot agree on where the pet should live, the court will simply add it to the “marital pot.” What this means is that the monetary value of the animal will be added to the rest of the money and property that the court is dividing between the divorcing couple. Then the court will assign a set of assets to one party, and a set to the other.
If the parties disagree on possession of a pet, and the court decides to hear arguments on the matter, it is imperative that you approach the issue from a property standpoint. It will be very helpful to have:
• Proof that you have been mainly financially responsible for the care of the animal;
• Proof that you have been responsible for the day-to-day care of the pet (feeding, walking, etc.); and
• Proof that you were responsible for the acquisition costs of the animal (purchase price, adoption fees, etc.).
This proof may take many forms from receipts to affidavits. Courts may consider that the pet belongs to a child and place the pet in the home where that child will mainly reside, but they are not required to do so.
Pets are family for many of us, and losing one in a divorce can be devastating. The attorneys at McNeelyLaw LLP are very experienced in helping ensure that you do not lose another cherished loved one in what is already a time of great distress.
This McNeelyLaw LLP publication should not be construed as legal advice or legal opinion of any specific facts or circumstances. The contents are intended for general informational purposes only, and you are urged to consult your own lawyer on any specific legal questions you may have concerning your situation.