Mississippi and Alabama laws may not reflect the love that most families have for their pets. Family law in both states generally treat pets as another piece of property when it is time to allocate custody after divorce. Despite the absence of any legal guidance, however, couples can protect their pet and their interests.
Now, courts may treat the pet like an inanimate piece of property and consider who purchased the animal or paid the vet bills. Who a pet loved the most or who it preferred to sit next to may not be considered.
One option, however, is to have a conversation on custody arrangements for the pet immediately after its adoption. Couples can then execute a notarized agreement, also known as a pooch prenup, that sets forth custody and care of the pet. Although a court may not enforce these agreements, it could serve as a basis for negotiations and an ultimate divorce settlement.
An agreement should take several things into consideration. These include spouses’ working hours, visitation schedules, which spouse the pet favors, and who pays for veterinary care, food and supplies. It should also reflect whether the couple has multiple pets and whether there will be re-marriage, new children or pets in the future.
Shared custody allows a spouse to spend time with their pet depending on their time and relationship with the animal. One spouse may serve as primary caregiver while the other spouse has visitation rights and takes care of the pet when the primary custody spouse is traveling and during other mutually agreeable times.
If an agreement is not reached, a spouse should be prepared to demonstrate things like who purchased the pet and paid for its care. Despite outdated laws, a judge may also consider which spouse had the best relationship with the pet and who cared for it the most.
Finally, a couple should always make decisions on what is best for the pet’s health, contentment and well-being. The animal should not be used to extricate concessions on other matters such as support or to punish or antagonize a soon-to-be former spouse.
An attorney can help spouses prepare for these issues and present them with options. They can also assist them with pursue their rights.