In the midst of the emotional upheaval separation can bring, one aspect couples often overlook is what the fate of their shared pets will be in a Washington state divorce. When a couple has cared for a pet together, the question of who gets custody can be a complicated issue.
This concern is particularly significant given the fact that pets often hold a special place in our hearts and lives, much like children. In Washington State, laws regarding this matter have been evolving, reflecting a broader shift in how society views the role of pets in families and recognizing pets for the emotional bonds and relationships they share with their human caregivers.
That said, the state of Washington has specific laws defining how to handle the disposition of pets in divorce, not rooted in emotions. If you are considering divorce in Washington state and are concerned about whether you are your ex will keep the family pet after divorce, this is what you need to know.
How does pet custody work in Washington state?
Currently, the state of Washington does not have laws related to pet custody. The decision of where a pet goes after divorce is up to the individual spouses and generally not a matter for the court. After divorce, couples may set up visiting schedules or shared custody of pets, similar to how divorced couples make arrangements with their children. But again, Washington courts do not get involved in pet custody.
Other states, however, have enacted laws to address the issue. In Alaska, for example, courts have the ability to decide where a family pet goes after divorce, with considerations given to what would be best for the individual pet. The law also addresses who gets custody of an animal in cases of domestic violence.
Because of increased consideration for the welfare of animals in our society, Washington state, too, may see changes to state law in the future. But for now, divorcing pet owners must be prepared to make decisions based on how Washington law defines them — as property.
Pets are community property in Washington state.
In Washington state, pets are considered property under the law. Since Washington is a community property state, if one spouse owned the pet before the marriage, in most cases, the pet would be considered separate property, leaving the pet with its original owner after the divorce. If the couple adopted the animal after getting married, then the pet would likely be considered community property and treated as the equal property of both people.
More and more states, including Washington, however, are seeing an increasing concern over the roles pets play in our families and everyday lives. Divorcing couples with children and pets often see the pets going where the children go or even mirroring the joint or shared custody situation set up for the children. In most cases, the more fervent battles over pet custody involve couples without children.
Where divorcing couples cannot agree, courts will weigh a variety of factors when deciding which spouse should gain ownership of a pet. These considerations include:
- Whether the pet was received as a gift.
- Which spouse bears the financial responsibility for the pet’s expenses.
- The veterinary records associated with the pet.
- The spouse with whom the pet predominantly resides.
- The monetary value of the pet.
- The existence of a bill of sale or an adoption/purchase contract.
- The spouse under whose name the pet is registered
- The spouse who initially acquired the animal.
- Whether there are children involved who have a close relationship with the pet.
Pets can be included in prenups in Washington state.
No divorcing pet owner is immune to facing disputes over who will keep the family pet in their divorce. Even celebrity couples such as Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas reportedly fought over who would get their three dogs. Fortunately, if you have the foresight, a prenuptial agreement can help.
Traditionally, when couples considered a prenuptial agreement, they did not consider how a pet might factor into the separation. These days, Washington state family law attorneys are seeing an increase in pet prenups. This could clear up issues of who gets to keep the pets after a divorce. Unfortunately, a prenup may not make separation from the loving animals any easier.
Find a Seattle family lawyer for pet custody disputes in divorce.
With or without laws to address the issue, pets can still become the focus of a divorce, just as children can. Like with children, the focus should be on what’s best for the pet when it comes to deciding their future.
At Elise Buie Family Law, our empathetic family law attorneys understand how much you love your pet and want to do what is best for them in light of your divorce. If you are presently concerned about how your pet will fare in your divorce, our team of Washington state divorce lawyers can help. Contact our Seattle office today.