For most Maryland residents and others around the country, pets are often viewed as family members. These relationships with pets can become quite complicated when a couple decides to get divorced. Pet custody issues are now addressed in many prenuptial agreements. Also, several states have changed or proposed legislation that will change the way pets are viewed in divorce deliberations.
Traditionally, pets were treated as property when determining custody. For example, if the pet had been owned by one spouse prior to the marriage, the pet would belong to that spouse after a divorce. If the couple acquired the pet together during the marriage, the guidelines for property division would apply. However, many courts are handling pet custody decisions in a similar manner as child custody.
The pets’ best interests are considered by the courts in California, Illinois and Alaska in determining who will get custody. The owners must present evidence for why they believe they are the best one to provide care and a home to the pet. A spouse could provide documentation regarding trips to the veterinarian, receipts from purchases of food and medicine, or even photos of time spent with the pet to support the claim of being the better caretaker. For those situations where shared custody is not granted, visitation time can be arranged.
Provisions regarding care of pets following a divorce can be included in prenuptial agreements or other marital agreements. A Maryland divorce attorney can assist couples with the development of a prenup prior to their wedding. An experienced lawyer will work with couples to develop an agreement that is specifically tailored to their specific needs.