Published by: Ingrid King. Last Updated on: February 9, 2023 by Crystal Uys
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.
About the author
Ingrid King is an award-winning author, former veterinary hospital manager, and veterinary journalist who is passionate about cats.
If I was married and had a cat, I would consider joint custody.. However depending on who takes care of the cat now should be considered. I think if it were my cat and I took care of the cat the most then kitty should go to me. The same for him-if it is his cat and he works and I take care of the cat the most kitty should go to me. I would consider joint custody of kitty if we already share the responsibilities of kitty. It would also depend on the situation.
While joint custody sounds good in theory, I think there are few cats who would do well with the constant back and forth such an arrangement requires.
I went through this and thankfully, when my ex and I found Bobo as a stray (in 1989 or 1990), we were just dating. We didn’t marry til about 7 years later. We divorced in 2000 (I think…)…..but….from the VERY BEGINNING I told my ex that should something happen to us as a couple (splitting up), Bobo was MINE. That is because at that time I made much more money than he did (imagine that lol, I had a REAL job lol)………and I was responsible for everything financially related to Bobo (forget the fact that Bobo and I were so close, I said this in the early days). When we divorced I did take Bobo….but…..it broke my heart because my ex was a true “Cat Daddy”….he adored Bobo beyond belief. We parted amicably, and I told him he could visit Bobo anytime he wanted, but a year after our divorce I moved to Michigan. I still feel Bobo was better off living with me, but my ex was a marvelous “Cat Daddy” truly marvelous. He was a “Cat Daddy” before it was hip to be one. It DID break my heart.
I had a similar experience with Feebee, my first cat. My former husband and I adopted him together. When we separated and eventually divorced, Feebee had been with us for 10 years. There was never a question that Feebee would stay with me, but it was heartbreaking because my ex truly loved Feebee, and Feebee loved him. In fact, Feebee developed bladder stones a few months after my ex moved out. We now know that there’s a connection between urinary tract disease and stress, and there’s no doubt in my mind that the stress of the divorce was responsible for my little man getting sick. Thankfully, he recovered and lived for another almost six years until he passed away from lymphoma.
I hate to even think about this because our cats are our kids.
I hate that the law views cats as “property.” This is good advice. I would hope that most people would do whatever is best for the cat in the end.
I just can’t view my cats as property. They are members of my family. Hell, I love my cats more than many members of my family. If I ever end up in a situation like this I can only hope my future ex will take my sketchy half uncle in favor of the cat.