Many people think of their pet as a member of the family. Not surprisingly, many divorces
include emotional battles over who gets to keep the pet. If your relationship with your best friend
is important to you, you need to understand how Connecticut courts deal with pets in divorce.
How do courts consider pets in the divorce process?
While you may consider your pet a part of the family, Connecticut courts view your pet as
property under the law. Unlike children, for whom courts will consider custody and visitation
arrangements, pets are treated more akin to belongings like furniture or cars. All assets, including
your pets, are subject to division and distribution in a manner that the court deems fair. Either
you or your spouse will be awarded the pet and the related responsibility and costs; the court will
not entertain joint custody arrangements or visitation schedules.
In Connecticut, property division orders are final. You cannot come back and have them changed
after the divorce. Therefore, if maintaining an ownership interest or rights to your pet is
important to you, it’s best not to leave the decision in the court’s hands.
What other options do I have?
Rather than letting a judge decide your pet’s fate, you can negotiate an agreement with your
spouse that honors the role of your pet in your family. Although the Connecticut family court
will not create schedules for who has Jack the Dog or Samantha the Cat on which days, you and
your spouse certainly can do so in your negotiated final agreement.
For couples who have minor children, the animal may in some cases provide emotional support
to one or more of the children, whether officially or unofficially. In such a case, the parents may
agree that the dog or cat move between homes on the same schedule as the children.
Within your agreement, you can also delineate how costs will be shared, including day-to-day
costs such as food and toys and larger costs such as vet bills and pet insurance.
What if I want to retain ownership of the pet, but I am temporarily living in a residence that doesn’t allow pets?
You should address this in your negotiated final agreement. For instance, you can include a
provision stating, “While one of the parties lives in a residence that does not allow pets, the
schedule will be X. But when both parties live in residences where pets are allowed, the schedule
will be Y.” Your negotiated agreement can also contain provisions for other hypothetical
changes in circumstances that may arise and impact the pet care plan. Additional provisions can
address how day-to-day and larger costs will be handled if the pet transitions from the care of
both parties to one party, or vice versa.
It is important to address these issues when negotiating your agreement, because if they are not
mentioned in the divorce decree, you cannot go back to the court to try to change them. Your
only recourse will be to try to get access through an informal, out-of-court agreement with your
former spouse who has possession of the animal – and hope that he or she is reasonable.
What if I am concerned that my former spouse will be abusive to our pet?
When people apply for restraining orders for protection from someone with whom they have a
familial or intimate relationship, they can also ask that the order be extended to protect animals.
If the court issues the order, the individual may be prohibited from having any contact with or
causing any harm to the animal.
The family law attorneys at Ruel Ruel Burns Feldman & Britt serve as trusted advisors and
represent clients in divorce litigation, child custody, and appeals in Connecticut. If you are
considering a divorce and would like to learn more about how your pet may be impacted during
the process, contact our family law attorneys at 860-206-9096 or online.