While your pets may feel like members of the family, they are not treated as such when it comes to Massachusetts divorce law. There are no custody laws surrounding pets, so the courts treat them like any other possession when it comes to divorce cases and divide them equitably between the parties.
However, just because the court sees your pets as property, that does not mean that they must be treated that way. Family lawyers can assist in drawing up agreements regarding a pet’s home, expenses, and visitation in a manner similar to child custody, even if there is no real “pet custody.”
If the pet was owned by one party prior to the marriage, then the court will most likely grant them ownership. It is important to check whose name is on the pet’s registration and vet records, as this could influence the court’s decision.
Pet custody can be worked out by the owners themselves, rather than having to involve the court. Some people may choose to create their own visitation schedule, much like one would do with a child. A lawyer will be able to help draft a clause that pertains to what happens to your pet after the divorce.
Not only is it important to decide if visitation or shared custody should be agreed upon when it comes to your pet, but the expenses for caring for them should also be included. Things such as medical expenses and the costs for food, supplies, etc. should be factored in to the agreement. Decision-making power should also be established, especially when it comes to hard choices such as having to put the animal down.
Note that shared custody of a pet may not always be in the best interest of both parties, especially if they are not leaving the marriage on civil terms. Pet visitation will most likely require more interaction between the divorcees than with child custody, unless you have a pet that is able to do “sleepovers.”
Just as the courts favor whatever is in a child’s best interest, it is important to also make this consideration for your pets. Will a single home be beneficial to their well-being? Do they find consistency important? Do you have enough space for them to get adequate exercise? While you may have developed a great bond with a pet, that does not mean that what feels right for you is what is best for the animal. It is important to put their needs first.
It is a good idea to involve your divorce lawyer if you want to establish some boundaries for pets in the divorce agreement, since the courts will not establish provisions such as visitation schedules and costs of medical care. Revelli & Luzzo are reputable family lawyers and would be happy to speak with you about your pets’ role in your divorce. Contact us today for a free consultation.