The ASPCA estimates that between 37-47% of American households have at least one dog, and another 30-37% have at least one cat. For many people in these households, their pets are as much a part of their family as their children.
When a couple gets divorced, pets are often a large source of contention. While the couple may care for their pet deeply, Washington State law considers pets to be items of property with no special rights or regulations. As a result, ownership of the pet depends on the outcome of a couple’s divorce.
Washington is a community property state, which means that all property acquired during a marriage—including pets—belongs to both spouses. Division of property in Washington is done “equitable”—if a judge makes the decision he or she will try to be fair. For instance, suppose a woman owned a cat for 8 years prior to her marriage. After two years of marriage, she gets divorced. In such a situation, a judge may decide that the cat belongs to the wife because that seems more fair.
Divorcing couples have the ability to split their marital property as they see fit, with approval of the court. Ideally, a divorcing couple would come to a mutual agreement about pet ownership, and would decide for themselves which partner gets to keep the animal.
While making this determination, a couple could create a visitation schedule or shared custody arrangement for a pet—but a judge would not make such an order. Instead, a judge would just give ownership of the animal to one person.
Fighting for the right to own a family pet can be an exhausting and emotional experience. Most of the time, it is often better to work out these issues informally than it is to involve the court. At Pacific Northwest Family Law, our attorneys offer many services besides just divorce. Our Washington family law attorneys possessed skills in mediation, arbitration, and negotiation that will help your family come up with a plan that works for everyone.
To schedule a consultation with Pacific Northwest Family Law, or to learn more about your rights in a divorce, contact our office today by calling 509-572-3700.