The importance of pets in our society is measured in terms of billions of dollars. Couples are delaying children or not having them at all--and pets are more commonly accepted everywhere—such as at hotels. They are the “kids” for many people and when a divorce comes about, they can be the central issue of contention—who gets “Tigger” the cat or “Fido” the dog. This blog addresses pets under current Indiana law.
As many readers may be surprised to learn, pets are treated as normal household property—like the plates in the kitchen and the car in the driveway. Nevertheless, that does not prevent bitter disputes from arising over pets during a divorce. One way some couples “win” the pet battle, is to agree to a different division of the marital estate—effectively buying the animal in question. In other words, they are agreeing to a division other than the presumed 50/50 to ensure they get Fido.
This noted, many couples are shocked to learn that there is no visitation or custody of pets like children. Many experienced divorce attorneys have drafted elaborate pet visitation schemes to rotate the pet(s) between “parents”. However, because pets are treated as property under the Indiana Divorce Act, the Court loses jurisdiction over the pet thirty (30) days after the divorce decree is entered. This means if your ex-spouse chooses not to honor the pet visitation agreement, your remedy may be a contempt action. In these cases, unfortunately, the defense of the other spouse is sometimes the pet ran away or became ill and died, potentially dodging a contempt finding.
Ultimately, a skilled divorce attorney may well be able to reach your objective regarding your beloved cat or dog, but is it key to understand your furry friends are just property under the Indiana Divorce Act requiring very careful negotiation to ensure you are “awarded” the pet in question in your divorce decree or have better agreement for visitation. Again, while lots of scientific data backs up the importance of pets to the individual’s emotional needs, the law simply does not fully embrace this notion. They are things to be divided like the lawnmower.
That said, on rare occasions, the issue of pets makes its way to trial. Here the key to prevailing and being awarded the pet as your sole and separate property is to show evidence much like the custody of children. Who purchased the pet? Who fed the pet and took him to the vet and groomers? While this may seem like an extreme situation, it is litigated in trial courts more and more each year. One game-changer may be therapy pets or service pets. Those pets are normally tied to a specific spouse and this evidence must be put on to advise the court that a just and reasonable division of the marital property is awarding the pet to you.
This blog is written by attorneys at Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. who handle divorce cases with all issues—including those involving disputes about pets—throughout the state. This blog is written for general educational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice or a solicitation for services. It is an advertisement.