If you’re a pet owner, you know that a pet is an important member of the family. This is often why, when couples divorce, there is a struggle. If the family dog was a family member, Minnesota laws would clearly outline what rights the divorcing couple has. There would be a hearing for custody, an official schedule, and so on. But what happens when a divorcing couple can’t agree on what will become of Fifi or Fido?
In Minnesota, pets a part of the property being divided by the divorcing couple, and governed as a property division. This means that if the pet is one spouse’s “non-marital property,” divorce laws dictate that spouse will be given custody of the pet.
Divorces aren’t fun, and dividing property is often messy, especially when you’re emotionally attached to it. An experienced attorney can work to make sure you get all that you are entitled to.
What Do Judges Consider Non-Marital Property?
There are several ways to have your animal designated by the court as non-marital property. Was the property in your possession before the official marriage? For example, if your cat was living in your apartment, before your marriage, then the pet is non-marital property.
The pet will also be considered non-marital if you or your spouse purchased the pet prior to the marriage. Even if a couple was in a romantic relationship when the cat first moved in, the ownership would be considered rightfully yours if the pet lived with you, alone, first. If the pet was given as a gift, specifically to one spouse, then that spouse will be the clear property owner.
A pet is also non-marital property if you and your spouse have separate money, and you purchased it with that money. Proving this is tricky, especially if the pet is elderly. You may not have the records you need. In this case, your lawyer will need to build evidence to make your case.
What if the Pet Is Marital Property?
If the pet isn’t non-marital property, the outcome of your case may end up very different. Attorneys usually like to mediate an agreement if the spouses are having trouble agreeing. If there is no wiggle room on either side, then the court will eventually have to make the decision.
Interestingly, judges tend to consider similar factors to child custody cases when deciding who gets to take the pet home. If you have kids, the court may even decide to send the pet to the place they end up living. So if you end up with custody of the children, you may also end up with the dog. Other factors will focus on the care of the dog. Are you the pet’s primary caretaker? Did you do most of the vet visits and pay the bills?
One more thing the judge will look at is the environment and lifestyle of the dog. If you have a large dog, but you’re moving out to a small apartment, that isn’t really fair to the dog. If you work sixty hours a week, but your spouse works part-time, that may seem like a better option in the judge’s eyes.
Like most issues when it comes to divorce, it’s really for the best if both spouses can agree on the outcome. If you feel strongly about keeping your pet, it’s possible that you and your spouse can come to an arrangement that’s easier to live with. Perhaps you can share custody of the dog, or even ask your spouse to help shoulder some of the cat’s vet bills. There are many possible arrangement out there that may fit your needs.