By: Sarah T. McCain
Man’s (or woman’s) best friend, just like your child, will be near and dear to your heart long after your marriage may end. When going through the divorce process, often the family pet becomes part of the equation for many individuals, but is your dog or cat a consideration for the court? The answer is, “yes.” Unfortunately, as of today’s statutes, animals are not given much thought by Colorado divorce courts from an emotional or feelings standpoint. Rather, the law leaves family pets essentially viewed as any other piece of marital, personal property. This does not mean that you should completely ignore your pets when going through a divorce, but taking this issue to the judge may not result in the outcome you anticipate will happen. Judges will generally not be dividing custody or transferring animals back and forth between parties to a divorce case. This is, in part, because courts have to divide property by allocating it specifically to someone.
As such, when possible, it’s best to try to negotiate terms regarding the possession, ownership, and care of your animals and to get those terms put into a written agreement. That written agreement can then be made an enforceable order of the court. In essence, though a judge might not put the necessary thought into how to deal with the family pets, you have the power to come to agreements regarding those pets which you believe are in their “best interest.” Of course, animals come in all shapes, sizes and types. Not all animals are considered pets, such as livestock on a ranch. When trying to reach an agreement regarding animals, where should you focus? Will you treat the family dog different from the cows or goats on your farm? How will you divide them?
The first item is to look at what type of animal is being considered. Are you looking at the family cat or dog or are you dividing livestock and ranch animals? Livestock and ranch animals will generally not be divided between parties as they will often stay with whoever receives the property. With the exception of horses, it is probably a rare circumstance wherein the parties have the ability to divide major livestock. However, these animals should not be ignored as they will likely have a value as a marital asset which may need to be evaluated. There are experts who evaluate livestock and can provide a value for those assets. This will likely be a factor in an overall farm or ranch appraisal. Livestock, such as cattle may have significant value. Farm animals may well be a topic for another blog post. For now, I will focus on the smaller, domestic animals.
When you are looking at family pets, one party will generally take the dog or cat. Multiple pets might be split between the parties. However, I have also seen instances in which people essentially formulate a custody like agreement for the family dog. This can entail a written, enforceable visitation schedule schedule. Frankly, agreements regarding family pets can vary from simply ones in which one party just keeps the animal to complicated agreements setting forth provisions for regarding veterinary care and costs. When agreeing, the parties are free to agree to whatever terms they are willing to agree upon. Individuals with show dogs or expensive hunting dogs may arrive at additional, complicated agreements regarding showing and breeding. In some cases, pets may have come a huge part of people’s lives, including in a financial sense. Of course, offspring tied into breeding may also be a consideration. Like farm animals, issues can arise regarding valuing pets, such as a litter of pure bred Yorkies, which can sell for over $1000 each.
When working with your Denver divorce lawyer, it’s important to discuss that which is important to you regarding your animals and to work towards getting as much detail as you possibly can into any agreements reached. Coming to an agreement is likely your best option for making sure your pet is given the same attention due the other important issues in your case. When it comes to dealing with pets, who to many are truly viewed as members of the family, taking your arguments to the judge may not result in outcomes either party wants. As with your kids, it’s likely better to take part in dictating the future for your pets. You will still love Rover once your marriage is over. In a contested situation, the court will likely quantify Rover as a monetary figure, but will be unable to put a dollar figure on your love for that furry friend.
Sadly, there are instances in which neither party wants a pet. In those instances, please let your attorney know. The attorneys at Plog & Stein are always open to helping find a safe place for your pet, which will never be viewed as billable work.