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Animal Custody: When There’s a Break-Up, Who Gets the Pet?

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When couples split, custody of the pets often become an issue.  Pet custody disputes can be decided in civil trial court or through a mediator.

Although these cases can be quite heated, the parties involved are usually genuinely concerned about the welfare of the pet.  When determining the best home, points to consider include:

  • Age of the pet (Does it make sense to uproot the animal and force them to adjust to a new home?)
  • Separation from friend-animals (would loss of animal friends impact the pet’s quality of life?)
  • Stress of long-distance travel (will the animal be forced to travel a long distance to the new home?)
  • Any breed-specific statues at new location (are there any breed-specific laws in the new location that could impact the pet’s relocation?)

Shared custody or visiting arrangements can be defined if both parties are willing to negotiate.

If domestic abuse was an issue in the relationship, victims are very often reluctant to leave the pet behind, fearing for its safety.  Some states have passed legislation to include pets in restraining orders and remove them from abusive homes when victims are moved to a safe home.  When safe homes do not allow pets, animal shelter are often called to take the pet and provide temporary housing.

When specific state legislation is not in effect to protect pets in domestic abuse situations, attorneys should pursue adding pets as family members to restraining orders filed.  Many courts honor this request to protect pets if just cause can be shown.

Information for this posting from GP Solo Magazine, published by the American Bar Association, July/August 2009


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