When you’re getting a divorce, you’re already handling a lot of complicated negotiations. You may be facing child custody battles, arguments about who gets to keep the home, or any number of other disagreements. If you have a pet, you’re facing one more problem: pet custody.
The phrase “pet custody” seems similar enough to “child custody” that it’s easy to assume that there are laws in place to protect your furry friend’s wellbeing in the split. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. In Oregon, pets are considered property. They’re subject to the same laws as assets like your car or TV, not a person. During a divorce, that poses some complications.
If you want to keep ownership of your pet, you can’t rely on Oregon law to treat the situation as seriously as you’d like. Here’s what you need to know about pet custody in Oregon, considerations for your pet’s wellbeing, and strategies to keep custody of your beloved animal.
The Problem with Pet Custody
Though it’s obvious that animals like cats, dogs, parrots, and other common pets have personalities, they’re still not granted familial protections under the law. There are animal abuse laws, but these only cover situations where the animal is being physically harmed by their situation. There are simply no laws in Oregon that cover how pet custody should be decided outside of those dedicated to property.
If you and your spouse disagree on who should get ownership of an animal, the court can treat it like any other asset dispute. While some judges understand and will give the matter more consideration, they aren’t required to do so.
This can give vindictive spouses an opening. There are many anecdotal cases of a partner fighting to keep an animal during the divorce to spite their ex. However, a few legal strategies can help you keep custody of your pets even if your partner tries something spiteful.
Strategies to Retain Custody of Your Pets
Because pets are considered property, your best solution is to protect them like any other physical asset. The goal is to demonstrate that your pet is your separate property as opposed to marital property. There are a variety of contracts and legal constructions that can help you manage just that.
The best and simplest solution to keep your pets is to get a prenuptial agreement before you’re married. You can be as specific or as general as you want regarding animal custody in your prenup. For example, you can name a specific animal as your own separate property. You can also declare all dogs you acquire in the future to be yours and not marital possessions. Prenuptial agreements are usually respected by the courts as long as they’re produced with the help of a qualified attorney, so they’re the most reliable option.
Of course, if you’re already married, you can’t get a prenuptial agreement. Luckily, there’s an alternative.
Postnuptial agreements are contracts between couples who are already married. They’re becoming more common by the day for all sorts of reasons. If you’re concerned about losing custody of your pets in a future divorce, you can ask your partner to sign a postnuptial agreement about them.
You can use a postnuptial agreement to cover all the same subjects as a prenuptial agreement. You can cover specific pets or all pets. It’s even possible to use your postnuptial agreement to determine custody based on whose house is better suited to keep the animal.
While postnuptial agreements are becoming more common, they’re slightly less reliable than a prenup. Courts are more likely to see a postnuptial agreement as coerced, which may render it null and void. To make sure your postnuptial contract holds up in court, make sure you work with a qualified attorney when you write it.
Careful Ownership Registration
If pre- and postnuptial agreements aren’t an option, you can also secure your pets with careful registration. First, only pay for your animal and its needs with separate assets. These include funds in bank accounts you created before you were married that only contain money you earned before marriage. Anything you buy with separate assets remains separate until you commingle it, or make it a part of your marital property.
Second, make sure you purchase and register the pet in your own name, with no mention of your spouse. That prevents the paperwork from indicating the pet is co-owned.
Finally, always take care of your pet. Even if you bought the pet with your own money and it’s registered solely under your name, the court may consider it a commingled asset if your spouse often or primarily cares for it. Suppose you take complete care of the animal and support it without marital assets. In that case, it will likely be considered a separate asset and not part of the property you need to split.
Remember Your Pet’s Best Interests
When you’re fighting for custody of an animal, you need to remember that they’re a living, breathing creature. You love it, after all. You should make sure you prioritize the pet’s wellbeing, not just winning your fight.
For many pets, that means that shared custody isn’t a great solution. Animals thrive on routine, and swapping between two different homes regularly isn’t good for them. Instead, you should be fighting for sole ownership so the animal can have the stability it needs.
You should also take the time to think about why you want the animal. Do you want it because you genuinely love your pet, or do you want it to “win” something from your spouse? If it’s the latter, maybe there’s a better solution than trying to get custody of the animal.
Give Your Pets the Life They Deserve Post-Divorce
It’s true that Oregon doesn’t treat pets like people during divorces. While it can hurt to think of your animal companion as property, it’s simply a fact of the law. You can still fight for custody of your pet, but you need to do it within the constraints of the legal system.
That’s why you should work with a qualified divorce attorney if you’re worried about pet custody. The right attorney will offer expert advice and compassionate help during this difficult time. Reach out today to get your free consultation and start the process of fighting for your pet.