Families develop in unique ways. You and your spouse can be your own family unit, or you may add others, including animals and children, to the household. There are very clear and well-established Massachusetts state laws governing what happens with children when parents divorce.
However, things are a bit less clear when it comes to the animals that live in your home. Pets like cats and dogs can have intense emotional value for the people who keep them. Who will get to keep your pet when the two of you divorce?
Is the animal separate property?
One spouse may have already owned the pet prior to marriage, in which case the pet will be their separate property. It could also be that one of you received the pet as a gift or even inherited it from a family member. Such scenarios would also give rise to a claim that a specific pet was separate property.
Most pets will be marital property in the eyes of the court. A Massachusetts judge will not arrange for shared pet custody when a couple divides their property in a litigated divorce. A judge handling a pet issue will treat the animal like any other asset that is worth a fixed amount of money. They will designate it as the property of one spouse or the other in their decree and use its value to justify some of the other decisions that they make. You will have a little say if you disagree with the judge’s decision.
You could reach your own pet agreement
If you feel very strongly that it would benefit the animals to continue to see you frequently, you may be able to negotiate visitation rights if your ex keeps the pet. If you have children, you might agree to let the animals travel back and forth between the households with the kids.
You have the option of reaching your own arrangement as part of an uncontested divorce, but you won’t be able to rely on the courts to negotiate those terms for you. Understanding what it’s to expect during a Massachusetts divorce can help decide what strategy to employ regarding the property with the most significant emotional and financial value.