It has been well documented that the millennial generation is putting off parenthood. According to the CDC , the number of children born to couples under the age of 29 has fallen by 9% since 2007. As couples delay starting their family or choose not to have any children at all, pets are often taking the place of children in the household. According to the Humane Society of the United States, pet ownership has increased by 10% since 2011. From a recent Humane Society survey, nearly 80 million U.S. households include pets. In Minnesota, over 30% of all households have a dog. In 2006, a survey of the 1,600 American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers showed a 25% increase in pet related issues in a divorce. As this trend continues, divorce attorneys often have to answer the question – what happens to my furbaby in the divorce? The answer, as always, is that it depends.
In Minnesota, determination of who gets to keep the pet is considered a division of property issue. In the case of Pratt v. Pratt, the MN Court of Appeals determined that the best interest factors that are applicable to child-custody cases are not applicable to cases of pet custody, but because district courts have broad discretion in dividing martial property, the courts may make their determination of pet custody based on previous maltreatment. No. C4-88-1248, 1988 WL 120251, at *1 (Minn. Ct. App. Nov. 15, 1988). This means that when the courts make a determination on who should be awarded the pet, only one party will prevail.
Typically, district court judges tend to make findings regarding who should be awarded the pet in terms of who purchased it, how long that party owned the pet prior to the relationship, who provides routine care for the pet, and how attached any children are to the pet , However, it should be noted that judges are loathe to have to make these types of decisions. District courts are already overwhelmed with difficult child custody issues, pro se litigants, and complex spousal maintenance cases to spend time deciding who gets to keep the parties’ beloved Australian Shepherd.
Knowing that custody of a pet is a potential issue in divorce proceedings, couples would be wise to arrive at a creative solution on their own rather than leaving it up to a judge to decide. If you and your divorcing spouse tend to get along, you could request that your attorney craft a schedule for visitation. That way, both parties could benefit and still maintain a relationship with the pet. If that is not feasible, your only other option is to carefully consider how important Fido is to you and how much you’re willing to spend to fight for him in Court, knowing that without compromise, one party will end up in the doghouse.
As the newest attorney to join Kathleen M. Newman Family Law, Shaina Praska brings a strong background in family law and extensive district court experience to the firm. She has served as a law clerk under several Hennepin County district judges and referees, gaining valuable first hand experience in overseeing the broad needs of families going through the family court system.