It makes sense why most people think that pets are handled in divorces like children, but that is actually far from reality. In reality, for Utah family law, dogs, cats, and other pets are no different from furniture, cars, and other personal property.
Fact: Americans spend over $41 billion on their pets annually, up to $24 billion from the amount of money U.S. citizens spent on their pets in 1994.
In 2018, there are more pets in American homes than ever. In fact, nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of all American households own pets. And the vast majority of them are dogs (no surprises here). And while human beings establish emotional bonds with their pets and treat them as their companions and even kids, in the eyes of the law, your pet is just personal property, as harsh as it may sound.
So who gets the pet, who has been a member of your family during a marriage, in a divorce? This is the question we asked our Salt Lake City divorce attorney at the Emy A. Cordano, Attorney At Law.
Since Utah family law treats pets as personal property in divorce proceedings, it makes sense to include your pet in a prenuptial agreement to ensure that your pet stays with you no matter how your marriage is going to unfold. However, many couples who get married are either not aware of the importance of having prenuptial agreements and including their pets in them or do not know that there is no such thing as pet custody (as child custody).
So, in most cases, divorcing couples will not be able to enforce a prenuptial agreement to ensure that their pets remain with them after a divorce. If that is the case, your divorce attorney in Salt Lake City or elsewhere in Utah will be able to include provisions for your pet or pets in a postnuptial agreement.
Do note, however, that if you or your spouse breed and sell pets, your pet could be considered business assets, further complicating your divorce and making it nearly impossible to resolve this without seeking the legal advice of an experienced divorce lawyer.
If it is too late for both a prenuptial and postnuptial agreement, your spouse may use the pet as their bargaining chip. Some people become too attached to their pets during a marriage, and the other spouse may use this against the pet-loving spouse in a divorce, i.e. by negotiating unfair terms for the spouse just so he or she can get the pet without a court battle.
But do not fall for those threats from your spouse and his/her attempts to use the pet to their own advantage. “The law might be on your side,” says our Salt Lake City divorce attorney.
So whose pet is it? Plain and simple, if the pet belonged to you before the marriage, it will remain with you after the divorce in most cases (there may be exceptions though). If the divorcing couple got the pet during their marriage, things become complicated and require the help of a divorce attorney, as many factors will be taken into account to determine ownership of the pet, including but not limited to how each spouse treated the pet during the marriage, who bought the pet food and supplies, who paid for the veterinarian visits and medical expenses, and other.
In addition to the above-mentioned factors, family courts will also consider who of the spouses walked the pet throughout the marriage, who cleaned up after it and fed it. Among the evidence that will help you prove that you were the one who cared for the pet more than your spouse are: witness accounts from neighbors and family members, pet store receipts written in your name, your signature on the dog license, and many other.
Here at the Emy A. Cordano, Attorney At Law, we understand that you would not want to be separated from your dog, cat, or other pet just because Utah family laws are flawed and fail to recognize that pets as much more special than personal property. Let us help you find the best legal strategy to ensure that your pet remains with you after the divorce. Get a legal consultation by calling our offices at 801-804-5152 or fill out this contact form.