"What About Fido?" Who Gets Custody of the Family Pet?

The reality is that to many people, their pets are not just like their children, they are their children.  I have been shown family photos that included pets and more than one client has had their pet's picture made with Santa at Christmas time.

Despite the strong feelings that these people have for their pets, under Kentucky law courts do not equate pets to children.  Kentucky courts treat pets as personal property.  That means that your beloved family dog is treated the same as a microwave oven or a leather recliner.  In my years of practice, I am the only attorney I know of who has actually litigated a pet visitation issue (the other attorney in the case retired).  At the end of that case, the judge said she would never hear another one.  That is the attitude you are likely to encounter with most judges.  They will not order joint custody of a pet any more than they will require you to share time with your blender.

With all that being said, it does not mean that the parties, themselves, cannot come to some sort of agreement on sharing time with their pets.  This is an other issue in which mediation and a spirit of cooperation can end in a positive result.  Many parties are able to work out an arrangement to share time with their pets.  In such a situation, the courts will usually adopt that agreement as part of the final divorce decree.  Be aware, however, that if it becomes necessary to go to court to enforce that agreement in some manner or modify, a judge may still be dubious about the situation.

There may be additional considerations depending on your particular situation.  For instance, some veterinarians seem cautious about the idea of shared custody of a dog and do not recommend it at all for cats.  More exotic pets may be even more troublesome.  Further, keep in mind that if you got your pet from a rescue organization or pet placement program, you may have signed a contract that limited your rights to the animal and where or with whom the animal may live.  Finally, in the event of domestic violence in your relationship, it is not uncommon for an abuser to use your pet as a way of hurting you further so it may be necessary to take steps to ensure that "Fido" is protected along with you.

Photo courtesy of Stefano Mortellaro

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