Proudly representing clients in family law and criminal defense matters since 1975.

What happens to a family pet when its caretakers divorce?

On Behalf of | Apr 9, 2024 | Divorce

Emotional issues often dominate discussions of divorce, although people also need to address many practical issues as well. Certain elements of divorce straddle the line between personal and practical concerns.

For example, what happens with a pet when married couples divorce has both practical implications and long-term emotional consequences for family members. People often feel an intense connection to family pets, especially if they have shared their lives with that animal for years. The prospect of losing the connection with that pet can be a deterrent to divorce in some cases.

Those preparing for divorce in Washington often need to learn about how the state handles major issues, such as the possession of pets, in the event that their divorce needs to be resolved via litigation.

What is Washington’s approach to animals during divorce?

People often view pets as parts of their families. They may celebrate an animal’s birthday or the anniversary of bringing it home. The pet may sleep in bed with family members or sit on the couch during family movie night. Some people might therefore assume that the Washington family courts might help them establish a shared pet custody arrangement.

Unfortunately, that is an unrealistic divorce goal. In Washington, the courts treat companion animals as though they are property. A judge does not worry about assigning custody but rather allocates the ownership of the animal to one spouse or the other.

They factor in the likely fair market value of the pet when making other property division choices. Spouses preparing for divorce often find this approach unsatisfactory. The good news is that they do have the option of addressing pet issues on their own. Families with children often include pet visitation in their broader parenting plans. The animal might travel back and forth between households with the children, for example.

Other times, spouses preparing for divorce may readily acknowledge that one spouse either has a better bond with the animal or a schedule that allows them to better meet its needs. They could reach an amicable arrangement in which they allow the other to have visitation with the pet or the right of first refusal whenever the pet requires boarding.

In general, a family law judge is unlikely to impose those terms in a property division or custody order. However, families can potentially integrate highly unusual terms into their own settlements if they pursue uncontested divorces. As such, learning more about Washington property division rules may benefit those feeling emotionally vulnerable as they prepare for divorce proceedings. Spouses who understand Washington’s approach to certain issues, like pet custody, can set more realistic goals for their divorce proceedings.