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Pet custody battles: Who gets to keep Fido?

Some divorcing couples in Utah have dogs instead of kids – or they might have a cat, an iguana, a bird or a salamander. Regardless the kind of pet, if you’re attached to your animal friend, letting go of him or her could be one of the most difficult aspects of your divorce proceedings.

As such, you’re probably wondering where you stand. Will you be able to keep your pet?

Utah family law courts and pet custody

Pet custody disputes are different from child custody disagreements. That’s because pets fall under the category of personal property. If the couple acquired the pet during marriage, it will be part of the marital estate.

Courts consider the best interest of the child when making child custody decisions, and in some ways, they also consider the best interest of the pet when making pet custody decisions. When deciding a pet custody case, courts will usually take into account the following questions:

  • Who was the initial owner of the pet, and was it acquired before the marriage?
  • Who takes care of the pet’s basic needs, like walks, grooming, shelter and food?
  • Who takes care of the pet’s medical care and drives the animal to the veterinarian when a health challenge arises?
  • Who has the best financial capacity to furnish the pet’s needs?
  • Can one spouse offer a better environment where the pet will flourish? In the case of a dog, for example, does one party have ample yard space where the dog can play, and will other dogs be present to provide companionship?

New pet laws could change the landscape of pet custody

A new law in Alaska requires state courts to consider the best interest of the pet when making decisions in an animal custody case. The same law lets judges award joint animal custody to both spouses, or visitation rights to the non-custodial “pet parent.” Rhode Island has introduced a similar measure, and perhaps Utah will soon.

It’s unclear if such a law will find its way into the legal tomes of Utah, but it certainly makes sense to decide pet custody cases by considering the best interests of the animals involved. In fact – since couples can settle and come to agreement on virtually any aspect of their Utah divorce proceedings outside of court – divorcing spouses don’t have to wait for a new law. You can take the high road right now and ask yourself: What’s going to make my pet happiest?

If you’re going through a pet custody battle, an experienced Utah family law attorney can help you resolve this family law issue by educating you on your legal rights and options. Your lawyer can also advocate on your behalf in court to preserve the sacred relationship that you and your pet enjoy together.

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