Do Pets Play a Part in Divorce?

Staffordshire terrier puppy and a cat. Portrait on a white background

Plenty of married couples fight about their children: their parenting principles, the financial constraints of raising a family, and whether they even want to have children at all. All of these are important conversations to have before saying “I do.” However, people change, philosophies change, and the things we thought we wanted before differ from year to year. Sometimes, we get married with the vain hope that our spouses will change in ways that they never do. All of these are typical issues divorce lawyers and marriage therapists encounter. However, we are seeing an increase in similar arguments arising not over children, but over pets. That’s right. With more couples delaying parenthood, pets have become an integral part of many families, and the responsibilities that come with them can cause great contention both within marriage and in divorce.

If one of you is an avid pet lover, while the other is not keen on animals, it is important to understand this. Deciding if you can live with/without pets, setting ground rules about where the pet is allowed, how many pets you can have and where they will sleep, etc. can save lot of arguments and headaches and even keep you from the divorce lawyer’s chambers. This becomes trickier if someone in the relationship already owns a pet, and, believe it or not, for some, the pet may be a good indicator of whether or not the relationship is worth pursuing.

If, after setting ground rules you still have problems, get to the heart of the issue. Is your problem really that you cannot tolerate a pet? Or do you perhaps feel that your spouse prioritizes the pet over you? If living with a pet means living in intolerable conditions, then you will need to make this clear to your spouse. Sometimes, reluctant pet owners with severe allergies will end up in the hospital before the pet-loving spouse gets the picture. If, after a severe health issue, the spouse doesn’t relent, it may be time to speak to an attorney about divorce.

However, if the pet is tolerable, and living with the pet is a matter of adjustments, the reluctant spouse can certainly find ways to live with the pet before heading to divorce court. There are plenty of allergy specialists, like Washington, DC allergist, Dr. Michael Kletz, who specifically treat pet allergies.

Sometimes the problem isn’t one partner’s intolerance for the pet but, as with children, both owners love the pet too much to give it up. Are you in a custody battle for your pet? Unfortunately, while pets’ value may have increased in the eyes of the typical American family, they have not changed in the eyes of the law. As of 2015 across America, one is not able to file for “custody” of pets as you would a child. Rather, pets are treated like property, and the highest bidder wins. One owner may have to pay the other for the pet. Keeping your beloved dog or cat in divorce can certainly cost you.

There are many different factors that can be the cause or the result of divorce. As pets become a more integral part of many families, they are certainly not the least among such factors. We hope that your beloved companion does not add stress to your marriage, but if it does, we hope the guidelines in this post can help you reach a resolution, either in saving your marriage or in keeping what you value most.

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