Pet Custody: What is in Fido’s Best Interest?

Unfortunately, couples facing divorce often fight over anything and everything they can. Even normally reasonable people can get sucked into vicious conflict about who-gets-what. In my experience, the parties may not even care about what they’re fighting about—they’re just looking to fight. Recall Billy Crystal’s famous rant about the wagon-wheel coffee table.

You can normally break these fights into two distinct categories: kids and stuff. Couples fight over the kids, and couples fight over stuff. As you can imagine, courts treat these categories differently.

To determine who gets the kids, a court is always going to use the famously unclear “best interest of the child” standard to determine who gets custody of the kids. To determine who gets the stuff, however, there’s no “best interest of the stuff” analysis. Most of the time the parties just have to work that out on their own because, frankly, courts have more important things to do.

But what about the family pet? It’s not a kid, but it isn’t just stuff, either. Fights over pet custody challenge these traditional categories and require courts to think in new ways.

There is a growing consensus among both lawyers and judges that pet custody may require some special consideration, which can end up looking like a “best interest of the pet” question. With many couples choosing to remain childless until later in life (or choosing not to have children at all), the now-defunct-family pet may be extremely important to one or both parties. And worth fighting over.

For parties looking to fight over pet custody, it is important (as in any custody battle) that you be able to prove that you are able to take care of the pet.