Divorce is an emotional minefield, and custody issues make a difficult time even more challenging. Most cat guardians consider cats family members, and cat custody can turn into a battle very much like child custody.
Even though pets are considered property in most jurisdictions, courts are starting to recognize the relationship with a pet is different than the relationship with other property. Since a pet isn’t something that can easily be replaced or have a monetary value assigned, courts may be more open to considering custody arrangements for pets.
Knowing your rights can help you prepare for a cat custody battle. A good attorney can help you navigate the legal hurdles, but ultimately, both parties in the divorce need to determine what is in the best interest of the cat.
Cats as property
In the eyes of the law, cats are considered property. This can mean that the person who paid for the cat may be considered the legal owner. “Paid” doesn’t just refer to the purchase price or adoption fee; the law also considers who paid for the cat’s veterinary care and food.
Who cares for the cat?
Which party in the divorce is the primary caretaker? Who performs tasks such as daily feeding and litter box maintenance? Who takes the cat to veterinary appointments? Who can provide the best environment for the cat?
Possession is nine tenths of the law
The person who is living with the cat during divorce proceedings is more likely to be viewed as the primary caretaker by a judge. Don’t even consider “stealing” your cat back from your spouse so she can stay with you. Courts will consider that theft, and you could face criminal charges in addition to losing custody of your cat.
Consider joint custody
If you have a cat who does not get stressed by frequent travel, it may make sense to have your cat go back and forth between two homes. Since cats prefer routine, most cats will not do well with such an arrangement and may start to exhibit stress-induced health issues if they are forced to shuttle back and forth between two residences.
Divorce from the cat’s perspective
Cats are sensitive creatures who pick up on their guardians’ emotions. It is usually in the cat’s best interest to keep her in a familiar environment with an established routine. If one person works from home or has consistent work hours and the other person works a lot of overtime or travels frequently, the cat should probably stay with the person who can spend more time with her.
Consult with your divorce attorney to find out how pet custody is handled in your state so you can be prepared it if becomes an issue.
This article was first published on Answers.com and is republished with permission.