custody of a dog

How to Determine Custody of Pets in a Divorce

custody of a dog

Establishing custody of children is one of the most complex parts of a divorce, but what happens if you and your spouse don’t have children but do have pets? If you’re like many pet owners, you treat your animals as part of the family. As such, you want the best for them, and this means establishing a custody agreement that prioritizes the needs of your animals over your own personal wants. 

This can be difficult, but as long as you take your time and consider the situation with the help of an experienced family law attorney in Columbia, you’ll be able to reach an agreement that will ensure that your pets are properly cared for. Here are a few things to think about as you and your spouse work toward an agreement.

Understand the Legal Classification

Though your pets may seem like your children, they’re considered personal property under Missouri law. This means the pets must belong to either you or your spouse at the conclusion of your divorce. If you and your spouse cannot agree on who should get custody of an animal, the court will appoint one of you as the guardian.

Consider Who the Pets Are Closest To

Though the court considers animals to be personal property and won’t always consider their well-being when making a custody decision, you can. Think about who your animals are closest to you. For example, if your spouse is closer to your dog, you could agree to grant them custody of your pet. This will ensure that your pet stays happier and can adjust to the change of living situation with more ease and less emotional distress.

Think About the Living Situation

If you’re trying to establish custody for a family dog, horse, or other large animal, you’ll want to think about the ideal living situation for that animal. For example, dogs will benefit from a large yard to run around in. Horses will benefit from a pasture and a secure stable. Cats, on the other hand, can thrive in small apartments with minimal oversight. 

Think about the type of living situation you and your spouse can provide your animals at the time of the divorce. If one of you can better meet the animal’s needs, that individual should take custody of the animal. 

Split Custody Agreements Are Only Personally Enforceable

Since the court views pets as personal property, you won’t be able to create a joint or shared custody agreement that’s legally enforceable as a condition of your divorce. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t split custody. It just means that the agreement is enforceable only by you and your spouse. If your spouse is granted custody of your pets and refuses to relinquish them to you during your appointed time, the court will side with them, not you.

Work With an Experienced Attorney From the Beginning

If you and your spouse are struggling to decide who should take custody of your furry family members, don’t try to negotiate the agreement on your own. Work with an experienced family law attorney in Columbia. At Columbia Family Law Group, our team will do everything we can to help you reach an agreement that prioritizes the well-being of your pets and one that works for your unique situation. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.