Those of us with a dog, cat or other beloved pet know that these creatures truly are a part of the family. In fact, an American Veterinary Medical Association survey found that 80% of pet owners considered their pet to be members of their family. The emotional attachment between a pet and its owner can run deep, so when pet owners in Georgia divorce, one difficult decision that must be made is who keeps the family pet?
It may surprise and sadden pet owners to hear that except in a handful of states, when it comes to divorce pets are considered property, not unlike the sofa or an automobile. Thus, rather than being subject to child custody laws, pets are subject to property division laws in the event of a divorce. Georgia is an “equitable distribution” state when it comes to the division of assets, meaning courts will make decisions on who gets what property based on fairness. Unfortunately, this sometimes means that the pet will become the sole property of one spouse — a sobering situation for the spouse who was not awarded the pet.
Some pet owners, when negotiating a divorce settlement, can agree upon a “pet custody” schedule, in which they take turns having the pet in their care. Still, it is up to a judge to approve such a settlement. At the very least, it is important when it comes to pets and divorce, to acknowledge the attachment the pet has with its owners and the owners have with their pet.
Ultimately, if pet parents can agree on a schedule in which they can both have access to the pet, the spouses may benefit from such an arrangement, and the pet can be cared for and loved by the humans it has become attached to after the divorce is final. Courts might have to treat pets as property, but if the divorcing spouses are able to put their differences behind and negotiate a divorce settlement on their own, it can often result in an outcome that both spouses are satisfied with.