Pets are often an integral part of a family and during a separation and divorce, many wonder what happens to those animals. Whether a separating couple has children or not, many people love the family cat or dog and want to retain access to that animal after separation.
According to a New York Times article regarding the handling of pets during Divorce, many states’ “[c]ourts have traditionally treated pets as personal property in such cases, but that is starting to shift as some state lawmakers and advocacy groups promote the notion that the legal system should act in the best interests of the animals.” In line with these recent attitudes, “Alaska became the first state to enact pet-custody legislation, which allows a court to consider the animal’s well-being.” This standard is similar to North Carolina Child Custody laws which require a judge to consider the “best interests” of a child when determining an appropriate custody schedule.
As the custody rights to a pet have increased during Divorce, disputes regarding pets have also risen. A notorious case in San Diego, California resulted in a fight over a family dog costing over $150,000 and included expert testimony on the best custody arrangement for the dog. A 2014 Survey of Family Law Attorneys confirmed this trend, finding “a 27 percent increase in pet custody cases over the five previous years.”
In North Carolina, there are no family laws which provide custody rights to a pet. While a Judge may not be able to establish a visitation schedule for a pet, North Carolina Family Lawyers can and do find ways to ensure a pet is cared for or shared after separation. It is common to identify which party will take possession of a family pet or provide for a time-sharing arrangement of the pet in a Separation and Property Settlement Agreement. This Agreement can also establish a cost-sharing of veterinary bills, food, and other pet expenses.