Even though pets may feel like part of the family, attorneys at Perusse Nixon know that Colorado courts do not necessarily treat them as family members when it comes to divorce. Who gets the dog or the cat when families separate can be a contentious issue in many divorce cases.
You should know that pets are considered property under the law. There are currently no laws in Colorado that grant “visitation” or “custody” of pets. A court will not look at what is in the best interest of the animal like it does with children, when deciding who gets to keep the pet. Although, if there are young children involved and the pet is important to the kids, then oftentimes, the court will side with the parent who has the primary residence of the children.
Keep reading to learn more about what happens to the family pet during divorce in Colorado.
Colorado Property Law
Courts do not want to make decisions about the family pet, and they will often ask the parties to work out the details on their own or to find a mutually acceptable new home with a new family for the pet.
If they cannot agree, and there is no prenuptial or postnuptial contract addressing pet custody, the first step in dividing property is to determine which property is marital and which is separate. Assets that are determined to be separate will go to each spouse separately. If the pet belonged to you prior to your marriage, the court might consider your pet to be separate property and decide that the pet is your exclusively.
If you acquired the pet after marriage, it would be considered marital property, and the court will have to decide what happens to your pet. In Colorado, marital property is divided equitably, which means that property division is not necessarily equal between spouses. Courts divide property in a manner that they see as fair to the parties.
Equitable Property Division
Courts may look at many factors to determine what is fair in pet custody battles. For example, if one party has been the pet’s primary caretaker, the court may decide that it is fair to give that spouse custody. Courts may look at each party’s relationship with the pet and ask questions about who takes care of most of the animal responsibilities, such as feeding, grooming, exercising, and vet care. There is a lot of uncertainty when it comes to courts and pet custody decisions, which is why many divorcing spouses try to reach an agreement before the court is forced to intervene.
If you are a pet owner contemplating divorce in Colorado, there are other options for resolving your pet dispute. An experienced divorce attorney can answer your questions and provide you with legal representation in your divorce.
Agreeing To Custody Terms
If you and your partner can come to terms with your pet matters, the court will typically approve your agreement. Pet custody terms can provide that divorcing spouses share custody of the animal, have visitation with the pet, and share related expenses. Other terms may provide that the pet will go to one partner, and the other partner is absolved of all rights and responsibilities related to the pet.
Alternative Dispute Resolution
Pets, like any marital property, can be part of divorce mediation. If you and your spouse go to mediation or some other type of alternative dispute resolution, you can try to work through pet custody and responsibility issues as well. If you and your spouse cannot agree to pet custody terms, this issue and all other contested matters will be decided by the court.
Couples are increasingly addressing pet custody terms in prenuptial and postnuptial agreements to try to avoid court battles. In most cases, the court will follow the terms of the contract. However, if the terms of the agreement are found to be invalid, unenforceable, or unfair, courts may strike the objectionable terms, or they may declare the entire agreement null and void.
Colorado Divorce Attorney
If you are thinking about a divorce in Colorado, attorneys at Perusse Nixon can help. Contact our office by phone at 303-228-2285 or online to schedule a low-cost consultation. We understand that divorce is a difficult process, especially when a family pet is involved.