How Does Pet Custody Work in an Oregon Divorce?
March 23rd, 2022
In many homes, pets are an important part of the family — and the thought of losing a beloved companion animal when your marriage ends can be devastating. When spouses decide to part ways, the issue of who gets to keep the pet can be a particularly contentious issue. If you have a pet and are facing divorce, it’s essential to understand how courts determine ownership and what options might be available to resolve any pet custody disputes.
Are There Pet Custody Laws in Oregon?
People often treat their pets as they would their children. But no matter how strong the bond you share with your pet, Oregon courts do not treat pet ownership in the same way as child custody. Rather, dogs, cats, birds, and other pets are considered “property” under the law. This means they are subject to division in divorce, like your car, furniture, and other possessions.
How Would a Court Determine Custody for a Pet?
There are laws against animal abuse in Oregon, but there are currently no statutes that specifically cover how pet custody should be decided in a divorce. While the laws concerning animal rights continue to evolve, Oregon’s equitable distribution doctrine still applies to pets in divorce since they are regarded as property. Although most people would never think to put a price on their cherished companion animal, ownership after a divorce sometimes comes down to the pet’s monetary value.
Judges have wide latitude in deciding how to distribute property fairly in an Oregon divorce action — and the same goes for determining pet ownership. A court would evaluate a number of factors to determine pet custody after divorce, including the following:
- Whether one spouse had the pet before the marriage
- Who purchased or adopted the pet
- Whether it is in the children’s best interests to live with the pet
- Which spouse is the pet’s primary caretaker
- Whether a spouse is abusive toward the pet
Importantly, which spouse has the responsibility to care for the pet’s day-to-day needs — including feeding them and bringing them to the veterinarian — can be a crucial factor when custody is at issue. In some cases, it’s also possible that a judge will consider the best interests of the pet if it is obvious that one of the spouses would be able to provide a better home environment for them.
How to Avoid Pet Custody Disputes in Divorce
The best way to address pet custody issues is to resolve them before they even arise. One way of ensuring you will get to keep your pet after divorce is by executing a prenuptial agreement. Commonly known as a “prenup,” this is a contract entered into before the parties are married that can determine things like property ownership — and pet custody — in the event of divorce.
If divorce is imminent and you didn’t sign a prenup, a postnuptial agreement may be a viable option to help you avoid lengthy litigation over the family pet. A postnup can cover the same subjects as a prenup, but the major difference is that a postnup is entered into after you’re already married. A postnup or a prenup can be specifically tailored to meet the needs of your situation. For example, you can address the guardianship of one specific companion animal or generally characterize all animals acquired during the marriage as separate property, as opposed to marital property.
Negotiating a Custody Agreement for Your Dog or Cat
Not every pet custody case has to go before a judge and be decided in the courtroom. Just like with child custody, spouses can work out an agreement concerning pet custody after divorce through mediation, negotiation, or as part of the collaborative divorce process. This can allow the spouses to resolve their disputes amicably, without the cost and stress of litigation. Spouses might also be able to create a custody arrangement or visitation schedule that gives them both the opportunity to spend quality time with the animal.
However, when you’re negotiating pet custody, it’s critical to keep the best interests of the animal in mind. Animals thrive when they adhere to a routine — traveling back and forth between houses custody might not be a good option for some pets. In addition, if you know that your work schedule doesn’t permit you to spend enough time with your pet, you should consider whether they would be better off living with the other spouse. Instead of focusing on “winning” a pet custody battle, the emphasis should be placed on the welfare of the animal.
Contact an Experienced Oregon Divorce Attorney
Going through the divorce process is emotionally overwhelming, and the prospect of parting with a beloved pet can make it even more difficult. If pet custody is disputed in your divorce, a skilled divorce attorney can discuss your case and advise you regarding your legal rights and options. Located in Salem, Litowich Law is dedicated to offering compassionate counsel and reliable representation to clients throughout Salem — and achieving positive results in their cases. We welcome you to contact us for a consultation to learn how we can help.