While it may not be on the certain level of child custody, pet custody can still be an area ripe for disagreements during a divorce. The custody of a pet is complicated by the fact that pets are generally considered to be properly and there are no particular rights conveyed to pet ownership. However, anything that can be mediated and arranged through attorneys on a legal basis can still be enforced -- if both spouses agree to a certain custody agreement, that custody agreement can still be upheld.
Shared Custody Usually Isn't an Option
In general, a shared custody arrangement would have to go through your individual lawyers or through a mediation; a court will not usually concern itself with shared custody because the pet is property. Thus, if you do desire an arrangement that includes time with you and your spouse, you will likely need to come to an agreement with your spouse outside of the court system. This will form a contract outside of the divorce courts.
Pets Can Be "Traded" For Other Estate Property
Whether you're in a community property or equitable distribution state, a certain amount of "value" should be going to you and to your spouse. You might get a 50/50 split or a 60/40 split. But either way, the "value" of your pet will be considered as part of the estate. Thus, if your pet is valued at $400, you could potentially acquire that pet through a $400 distribution towards your spouse -- either in cash or other value. This is how the courts would view a fair distribution, but that isn't necessarily how you and your spouse may -- therein lies the potential for dispute.
A Prenuptial Agreement Can Protect You
As with any other property, a pet can be included in a prenuptial agreement -- and additions can be added when you actually acquire a pet. If a prenuptial agreement has been established, and the pet predates the marriage, then the pet will often be doubly protected; it will be considered to be your property because you already had it.
Pet ownership is often a serious consideration to divorcing spouses. Many pets are just like family members, and for a childless couple a pet may actually be the primary dispute during a divorce. Many attorneys are extremely aware that pets can factor into a divorce and can help an individual figure out the agreement that is best for them. To find out more, speak with someone like Shipman, Dixon & Livingston Co., L.P.A.