Many pet owners consider their beloved pets as part of the family. However, you may wonder how the law views your four-legged family members during a divorce.
Although you may consider your pets your children, it’s important to know that in the eyes of the court during a divorce proceeding, the court does not take the same outlook.
Under Maryland law, pets are considered personal property.
Therefore, the court views pets like a piece of furniture or a vehicle you own. Unlike child custody decisions, which the court makes based on the child’s best interests, the court will primarily consider who legally owns the pet and who has been caring for the animal in its decision. For instance, if a person legally owned the pet before marriage, the court typically rules for the legal owner to retain such pet in a divorce. However, if the pet was acquired during the marriage, it is marital property subject to equitable distribution in Maryland.
Equitable distribution means that property is allocated fairly, depending on several facts and circumstances the court must consider.
During equitable distribution, the judge splits the property between spouses based on what they believe is fair under the specific circumstances. Therefore, even if a pet is brought into the marriage by one party who owned the pet before, it could still be considered marital property if both parties in a marriage pay vet bills, buy food and provide other things that the pet needs with marital assets. One of the most persuasive factors a court will consider is the custody of any children of the marriage because a pet may be determined to stay with the children if it’s in the best interests of the children. Additionally, a service animal will almost always remain with the person who needs the animal’s help.
Suppose you and your spouse would rather not leave the future of the family pet up to the court.
In that case, the option to create an agreement between the two spouses is always available. This agreement can be in a prenuptial agreement before the wedding, a postnuptial agreement made during the marriage, or in a separation settlement agreement if the spouses decide they want to separate and/or divorce. And the Collaborative Law Process can be used in any of these instances. A pet agreement between the two of you would give you control and flexibility far beyond what a judge would do for you.
A court will consider pets as personal property in a marriage and treat the decision as to who would get the pet in the divorce as such. However, the option to take the decision out of the courts is always in your hands. Contact one of our family law attorneys to learn more about creating a pet agreement!
About Andalman & Flynn, P.C.: Founded in 1998 in downtown Silver Spring, Maryland, Andalman & Flynn has forged a distinguished reputation for legal excellence. The Firm practices family law, estate planning, and probate throughout Maryland and the District of Columbia, and represents individuals seeking disability benefits throughout the country. The Firm focuses on cases that impact the rights of everyone and is there for clients when responsive legal help is most critical. The Firm has provided legal analysis on national and local television and radio, and its attorneys often testify before legislative bodies and are routinely invited to contribute to prominent legal publications. For more information about Andalman & Flynn, please visit the website at andalmanflynn.com or call 301.563.6685.