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Pet Custody & Visitation: Important Decisions in Your Divorce


Enforcing Animal Law Agreements in Rhode Island

Pets are innocent bystanders in divorces, with no ability to indicate their wishes as to who gets custody, who they think is better at caring for them, or where they want to live. Unfortunately, as their owners, you must determine their fate just as you would your children and not without a good amount of stress and deliberation. Animal custody agreements are not uncommon and are a valid part of divorce agreements. As Rhode Island animal custody attorneys at McIntyre Tate LLP, we can help you draft and enforce a pet custody agreement as part of your divorce.

Case Study: Doggy Visitation Conflicts

Sometimes, even when there are court orders for shared custody and visitation for pets, things can go awry. Pet parents may come into conflict years after a divorce, at which point pet visitation may be withheld from an ex-spouse or may come into question if the pets appear to be in harms way.

One such case involved two dogs, both anxious breeds (Greyhound and Chihuahua) who were shared between divorced spouses, the divorce happening after a two-decade marriage. The agreement was that the dogs would visit one spouse Tuesday-Thursday each week. Conflict and an eventual lawsuit ensued when visitation became problematic.

The custodial “parent” asserted that the dogs came home from visitation on several occasions with injuries or stress related issues, and that at one point a dog was lost when pick-up time came, resulting in a search and extreme distress for all involved. The custodial parent withheld visitation from the non-custodial parent at that point, creating reason for legal action. The non-custodial parent brought the custodial parent to court, with accusations of withholding the pets from their scheduled visitation, asserting that the pet schedule be adhered to, as well as requesting that the custodial parent pay for the legal fees that were incurred during the hearing.

After evidence was provided by both parties, and each party pleaded their case, the court sided with the non-custodial parent and the custodial parent had to allow visitation as well as pay the fees of the process to the non-custodial parent.

What Does This Mean for Me?

The example above sounds much like a child custody case, and it is, but with a family’s beloved pets. After a long marriage and years of owning dogs together, it is not surprising that they will be an integral part of the “things” that are divided during divorce. If you and your spouse are facing a divorce, you will need to pay dedicated attention to how your animals will be shared after divorce. Consider the following when discussing shared custody:

  • Distance and logistics: Will it be feasible, and comfortable, for the dogs to travel back and forth and to sleep in a new home for part of their remaining years? Do they suffer separation anxiety or other nervous behaviors regarding leaving their home? Will the travel be easy for both parents, with exchanges being civil and not disruptive to the dog’s wellbeing?
  • Finances: Who will be responsible for vet visits and bills, grooming, daycare, or other expenses for the animals?
  • Health and age: Are the dogs healthy and young enough to withstand the upset of shared custody? Will they be better of staying in one place, with visitation at a single residence or during outings, instead of overnight?

It is important to set emotions aside as best as you can in the decision-making process and put the pet’s needs first. Their quality of life should be the priority when determining custody and visitation. If you are facing a divorce in Rhode Island and are concerned about sharing custody of your pets, let our team help.

Contact us to discuss the custody and visitation options for pets in Rhode Island.

Call McIntyre Tate, LLP today at (401) 351-7700.

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