By Colleen Cunnally, Esq. – Divorce Lawyer and Mediator at The Divorce Collaborative
Thanksgiving is over and now it’s time for Christmas! My house is decorated and it’s time to start my Christmas shopping. The usual suspects on my list include the hubby, my siblings, the nephews and nieces and last but not least my beloved DOG! Yes, the dog gets her own stocking and assorted Christmas presents. She even gets presents from her “cousins” Oreo and Angus. I admit, my family is a little dog crazy.
Our dog obsession is not unusual. I recently read Americans spend 50 BILLION dollars on their pets. Pets become part of the family and some people like pets more than people. As a Massachusetts divorce and family law attorney, I am frequently asked “What will happen with the family pet(s) after the divorce?”
Although pets become part of our families and in some households are treated like children, the Massachusetts Probate and Family Courts do not treat pets like kids. Therefore, “custody” of Fido is definitely not determined under Massachusetts child custody laws which consider the best interests of the children.
Pets are simply considered property in a Massachusetts divorce case and as such, they are subject to an equitable division of property pursuant to M.G.L. ch. 208, Sec. 34. Although we may be more attached to them, your dog, cat, or beloved snake is considered the same as a couch, jewelry, or a lawnmower under the law.
Pursuant to Massachusetts divorce laws, all property owned by either party, “no matter where situated, when acquired, and how acquired” is subject to an equitable division in a divorce action. This means everything is subject to being divided fairly between you and your spouse, including…your pets!
In determining just how your property should be divided, the court considers various factors which include, among other things, the length of the marriage, conduct of the parties, age of the parties, health of the parties, occupation of the parties, station of the parties, estate of the parties, the contributions of the parties toward the acquisition and preservation of their estate, the needs of the parties, and the homemaking contributions of the parties. To learn more about dividing property and Massachusetts divorce, please click here.
Yes, we have a lot of parties in divorce law.
Although pets are property (just like fish are friends), it’s not unusual for the court to consider whether one spouse owned the pet prior to the marriage and which party was the primary caretaker of the animal. Yes, it is possible that a judge could ask you or your spouse the BIG question:
WHO LET THE DOGS OUT?
Sorry, I had to work that in and couldn’t help myself.
As in any divorce, case, the humans are free to reach an agreement regarding pet ownership. Some couples choose to share ownership of a pet and work out a visitation schedule which sets forth when each party spends time with the pet, and how to cover the expenses related to pet ownership.
As a dog lover, whenever feasible, I think it’s best for the dog to maintain a relationship with both parties. At our firm we have drafted clauses (or is that clawses..?) relating to dogs, cats, birds, fish, snakes, lizards, and a horse, of course.
The Divorce Collaborative LLC is a family and education law firm with offices in Bedford, Franklin, and Shrewsbury, MA. For more information about our education and special education law services, please visit www.MaSpecialEdLaw.com
If you are in the Worcester, Framingham, Concord, Lexington, Billerica, Norfolk, Medfield, Medway, or Walpole area and are facing a divorce or other related legal problem, such as a child support or custody matter in Norfolk County, Middlesex County,Worcester County, please call us to schedule a private consultation.