Divorce can be stressful. The process of dividing property that has accumulated between you and your ex-spouse is a given. Questions regarding how you will split all that you have shared – the marital residence, cars, custodial time with the children – are all commonplace questions individuals ask themselves when going through a divorce. However, another issue has become increasingly commonplace among separating couples, and that is the question of how custody of family pets will be arranged. As people begin increasingly to refer to pets as their “fur babies,” family pets are slowly becoming a contentious topic for many divorcing couples.
In Framingham, Massachusetts, a local man was arrested and now faces animal cruelty charges. The man and his ex-spouse were arguing outside of the Framingham One Stop Market when the man attempted to attach his leash to his ex-spouse’s puppy. The man then proceeded to disconnect his ex-spouse’s leash from the puppy, grab it by its neck, and run away. The man claimed the puppy was his and that his ex-spouse didn’t pay for it. However, the man’s ex-spouse showed the police text messages to her from the man, telling her to keep the puppy for her birthday. The man was arrested following the incident but later released on bail.
Although divorce cases involving family pets typically do not get as violent as the case above, it is not uncommon for disputes over pets to become highly contentious. One party or the other will often use the pet as a bargaining chip. Some couples negotiate custody schedules for their pets prior to getting attorneys involved. One attorney noted that he has found younger couples to be more accepting of joint custody arrangements for their pets, allowing the pets to spend equal time at each party’s home. The Court will treat the pet as property, subject to the rules of equitable distribution. This opens the door for a judge to order a pet to be sold. When parties realize the possibility of such a Solomonic solution, they often reach an out-of-court settlement (on their own or with the help of attorneys) instead of proceeding with litigation.