Pets are family. This is the general consensus among pet parents and when asked, a firm assertion without hesitation confirming the same is expected. Our furry friends provide us comfort when we need it most, entertainment when we’re desperate for a laugh and unconditional love and support, much like our human family members. Some pet lovers who do not have children often regard their four-legged companions as their children and treat them accordingly. Considering the above, it should not come as a shock that when couples initiate divorce actions, some of the more contested disputes involve the custody of the family pets.
If pets are unequivocally members of the family, pet custody should follow a similar analysis to child custody within the context of marriage dissolution, right? An action for divorce involving a child custody determination requires an analysis which turns on a custodial arrangement that would be in the best interest of the child. Divorcing couples who share pets are likely to subscribe to the position that pet custody should mirror child custody determinations and should be based on the best interest of the pet in question.
Georgia takes a different approach to pet custody. Currently under Georgia law, pets are considered property and therefore fall into the property division analysis of divorce litigation. When dividing up a married couple’s property, Georgia courts follow the equitable division principle. Equitable division does not mean an equal split in property but rather what is a fair apportionment of the same under the circumstances. The first level of inquiry of equitable division sets out separate property and marital property. Separate property involves that which was acquired before the parties entered into the marriage. Marital property involves everything that was obtained during the marriage, with the exception of gifts and inheritances. If the family pet was acquired by one of the parties’ before the marriage, it will likely be considered separate property. If acquired during the marriage, the parties each have equal claim to the beloved, furry family member.
Whether you believe ‘best interest of the pet’ is a worthwhile argument or you are generally unsure of your options, consult an attorney. The Manely Firm, with its compassionate attorneys and supportive staff, personally understands the pivotal role that pets play within the family as many of us are pet parents. We are reminded of that every day during our Zoom firm meetings.