Can spouses share custody of a family pet post-divorce?

On Behalf of | Jan 29, 2024 | Property Division

People who have a pet in their families may include their dog or cat in almost all family activities. They may plan vacations based on what hotels allow them to bring their pets and may give their pets gifts on the holidays. Those who don’t have children might refer to themselves as pet parents. Even those with children often recognize that they have a strong bond with their companion animals.

Although the human relationships in a family may change over time, the love for a pet is a constant for most people. Worries about the loss of the relationship with a beloved companion animal might inspire people to delay filing for divorce in Washington state. They may worry about whether or not they can share custody of their pet with their spouse after the divorce.

Is a shared custody arrangement for a dog or cat a realistic expectation in a Washington divorce?

Pets don’t receive the same treatment as children

While someone who has raised a pet for years may feel as though they are a member of the family, that is not how the courts generally treat companion animals. Under current Washington state laws, pets are property that might be part of the marital estate.

Even if someone owned the pet prior to marriage, they likely used marital assets to care for the animal. Therefore, both spouses may have a degree of interest in the pet should they divorce. The Washington family courts allocate pets like property rather than creating custody orders for them as they do for children.

However, divorcing adults with pets sometimes have the option of reaching their own shared pet custody arrangement. While they likely would struggle to have the courts enforce those arrangements, they can schedule custody exchanges or include provisions for pet visitation in their divorce settlements.

Those who feel very strongly about preserving their bond with a companion animal may need to look into lower-conflict divorce solutions in which they set the terms themselves instead of litigating. As such, learning more about how Washington handles some of the more emotional elements of divorce may benefit those worried about what could happen to a pet at the end of their marriage.