When your family adopted its first pet you may have felt like you were welcoming a new member of the family. What no one told you is that when it comes to legal matters, your pet is not a family member — he or she is considered property. This means that legal processes like divorce can be especially complicated when animals are involved.

Since pets are considered property, they typically end up lumped in with property division. It can be hard to treat your beloved animal the same as you would any vehicles or household furnishings you need to divide during a divorce. Luckily, there is another option.

Choosing pet custody

If both you and your ex are committed to your pet, you could choose to share custody. This is something that you may want to tackle outside of court, as family law judges tend to just assign ownership to one person. A thorough pet custody agreement should include at least the following:

  • A weekly custody schedule including pickup and drop off times
  • How you plan to split pet care costs
  • Whether you can leave the state with your pet
  • How you will handle disagreements

In general, it is best to lean toward being overly specific. This means you might include details in your agreement that you feel are unnecessary or unlikely to come up. Avoiding future conflict when possible is a great gift for you, your ex and your pet.

What are the best interests of your pet?

You are probably not getting divorced because you and your ex excelled at communicating with one another. So what happens if you cannot work out an agreement about your pet on your own? You will most likely end up in court.

Whether the judge plans to award ownership to just one person or is considering a custody arrangement, he or she will need to consider the best interests of your pet. It will be up to you to help demonstrate what those best interests are. For example, it may be helpful to provide evidence of who typically walked, fed, or otherwise cared for the animal.

Protecting your relationship with your pet

Whether you have a dog, cat, or another animal as a pet, you might not be ready to say goodbye to them forever. The idea of losing him or her during a divorce can honestly be really scary. The good news is that you have options for addressing things like pet custody without necessarily needing to go to court.

Deciding what happens to your pet is only a small part of what goes on during divorce, though. You also need to figure out how you will divide your marital property, and there is the possibility that things like child custody, child support, and alimony will also come into play. While this probably feels overwhelming, taking the time to learn more about Washington family law can give you the confidence to move forward with this process.