When a marriage comes to an end, virtually all couples expect to discuss who will keep the family home, certain vehicles or other important assets. This foresight is beneficial as it allows for both parties to be prepared to face the various processes -- such as property division -- that come before a divorce is finalized. However, many pet owners in Minnesota are caught off guard when they realize the outcome of the family pet is not always as clear as other assets.
Few pet owners consider their four-legged friends to be property. Most people consider their animals to be additional family members and develop deep, emotional connections with them. Despite the changing attitude toward the family dog -- and cat, hamster and other animals -- family law has yet to catch up. Family pets are still considered to be property in Minnesota, meaning that the ownership of the animal is typically addressed during property division, where couples are also deciding who gets to keep the flatware.
Many pet owners feel unsettled by deciding the fate of their pet in such a manner, and one expert on the matter stated that some individuals even go as far as to use animals as bargaining tools in divorce negotiations. For some, this means having the thing they love the most used against them. While most divorcing pet owners do not go as far as to create custody arrangements for their pets, it is not unheard of, although there is not exactly a precedence for courts acknowledging these agreements.
Although the connection is obviously different than that of a parent and a child, there is no denying the emotional attachment felt between pets and their owners. Pets are far more than simple assets to the vast majority of owners. When a couple going through a divorce is unable to reach any type of agreement regarding the outcome of a beloved pet, it can be necessary to proceed to court. Gathering evidence regarding who was financially and physically supportive of the pet prior to appearing in court can help those seeking ownership of their pet.
Source: miamiherald.com, "In divorce, who gets to keep the family dog?", Ben Steverman, May 1, 2016