With pets becoming more of a member of the family rather than an extra thing in the house (it wasn't that long ago that pets did not routinely get the great treatment they do now), dealing with a pet during a divorce has become more complicated. The pet may be depressed that one person is leaving, or both spouses may disagree on who gets the pet. Pets are still considered property as far as the court is concerned, but now, pet visitation is a clause in many divorce agreements. While visitation does allow both spouses to still see the pet, it can also create some extra problems.
If you and your ex-spouse are going to share custody of a pet, that means you'll have to see each other on a regular basis. If the breakup was amicable, that's likely not going to be a problem. But if you dislike or even hate each other, those pet visits are going to be marred by the animosity.
And then there will be disagreements about how the pet is doing. Maybe one of you wants to let the pet run free at a dog park known for flea problems and the other is against it. Who decides when the pet is in the custody of the spouse who likes that dog park?
Two other problems arise with shared pet custody and visitation. One is that, if one spouse, particularly the one who has the pet most of the time, moves away, what happens to seeing the pet? Does the other spouse have to travel, or does the custodial spouse have to bring the pet out all the time? Remember that pets are property, so a spouse leaving the state—or even the country—isn't under the same legal restrictions as a parent with a child.
The other issue is what happens when the pet is nearing the end of its lifespan or if it's very sick. Who has the final decision over whether to euthanize the pet? How much of the medical costs will both spouses be responsible for? How will both of you ensure that one spouse (in a bitter divorce case) won't use the pet's medical situation to manipulate the other spouse?
For many couples, pet visitation and sharing can actually work out, but it takes a lot of talking and negotiating. You and your spouse, and your divorce lawyers, need to meet and discuss all of these aspects or whether it might not be better for one of you to simply say goodbye to the animal. Reaching a good agreement now will save you a lot of heartache in the future.
Contact a law firm like Scott & Scott, PC for additional advice.