Who Let the Dogs Out?

IMG_8618By Leslee Champion

For some, their pets are their children. So what happens to the family dog after a divorce? In most states, including Georgia, pets are treated as personal property. That is, the pet is treated as an “asset” and will be awarded to one party or the other depending on the facts and circumstances of the case. In determining who owns the pet, judges may consider factors such as who owned the pet prior to the marriage, who took care of the pet and who supported the pet financially. However, as pets are considered to be property in Georgia, individuals cannot be granted visitation with their pets.

Many find these laws to be too harsh, so it’s not surprising that many jurisdictions are changing the way they view pet custody laws. Recently several states have begun treating pets more like children, allowing divorced couples to divide ownership of the pet in a way that both parties get a chance to see their animal.  Like a child, these courts will look at what is in the best interest of the pet and determine custody, visitation, and even pet-support payments. In New York the Appellate Court awarded sole custody of the cat to a party Defendant, finding that the cat was a “feeling individual, who had “lived, prospered, loved and been loved” solely by the Defendant. (See Raymond v. Lachmann, 695 N.Y.S. 2d 308 (N.Y. App. Div. 1999)).  As Georgia still sees pets as property, the best approach for couples is to reach a mutual agreement on their pet issues and enter into a settlement agreement outlining the custody and visitation of the pet.

So, it could all come down to the question of who let the dogs out?