Alimony, custody, and other pet-y issues concerning cats and dogs

Alimony, custody, and other pet-y issues concerning cats and dogs

Marital separations involving pets can often be difficult and lead to arduous mediation sessions. Agreeing on the value of a house, a car, or any marital asset can be done, especially in an amicable split, but it’s rarely easy to put a price on the family pooch or Salem the housecat.

It’s much easier when one of the separating partners is glad to be rid of the family pet. For many other cases, fighting over pet cats or dogs can be a real nailbiter. Some couples may fight over their fur babies more intensely than they do over their children. Here are the usual bones of contention.

Is it possible to settle pet custody matters in Washington?

There are no “pet custody” laws in Washington because animals are considered properties and should be treated as a marital property concern rather than a custody issue. A couple may only agree as to who should get the pet; otherwise, the judge decides for them upon reviewing certain factors.

We’ve written about how pet-properties are handled by Washington judges in our article, Divorce and pet custody: fighting over cats and dogs

In Alaska, some laws take into consideration the animals’ best interests. In Washington, matters are resolved based on the best interests of humans. Divorcing couples may want to set an informal joint custody agreement to avoid adding pet-y issues to their disputes.

Here’s an idea: adopt a new pet for yourself in your new home. Studies have shown that canine therapy (and most-kinds-of-pets therapy) can help one’s self-esteem, improve sociability, increase happiness, and enhance overall health. Any divorcee can certainly benefit from these.

Costs of getting custody of pets

Getting “primary custody” of pets comes at a price. Costs may include visits to the veterinarian, medications, food, and animal boarding for when you’re away (and piano lessons if you want your pet to be musically inclined). These can easily add up and will certainly affect your budget as a newly divorced person.

Because the costs of getting pet custody can get astronomical, you may then think about getting spousal support for your pet babies.

Pet alimony in Washington

Washington State generally awards one-year alimony (aka spousal maintenance or spousal support) for every 3–4 years of marriage. If you have time to kill, you may read the guide to maintenance orders for either spouse or domestic partner in Washington. But if you’re looking for provisions for catimony, dogimony, or hamsterimony, you’ll find nothing in there. There are no pet parenting plans, either. In short, there’s no alimony for you and your pet in the Evergreen state.

They do things differently in New York. In 2012, Manhanittes Sarah Bronilla and Joshua Rosen agreed that Mr. Rosen would pay Ms. Bronilla alimony of $200 per month for their bulldog, Lola. In 2017, it was revealed that the dog dad was not making dogimony payments. Ms. Bronilla sued her ex-husband who she claimed owed her $32,000 in monthly dog support, inclusive of food, health, and upkeep costs. It remains a mystery whether the exes settled.

This case illustrates what may happen if you renege on your pet alimony agreement — it may result in a lawsuit. Spousal support for pets like cats and dogs may, under certain circumstances, be scrutinized by family law courts.

Pet visitation rights

In a 2016 case in Canada, a Saskatchewan couple who had adopted several cats and dogs throughout their marriage disputed visitation rights matters regarding their dogs. The husband, who wasn’t a cat person, wanted visitation rights for the doggies using the same principles on visitation rights for children. That would have made the matter easier to resolve, but it didn’t.

The wife, it turned out, had a bone to pick regarding an incident where the husband didn’t return one of the dogs after a scheduled visit. Note that all of this was under an informal agreement — there are no visitation rights mandates for pets in Canada, either.

The judge’s decision essentially summed up the matter as follows:

  • Dogs are adorable but they are properties that enjoy no familial rights.
  • Courts are extremely busy — there are tons of child welfare and family cases needing far more urgent attention.
  • Debating the matter was a wasteful use of judicial resources.

Marital property agreements typically involve dividing properties like Lazyboy couches, refrigerators (and the half-consumed peanut butter in them), and other household objects. Much as we love them, pets are considered properties and are awarded to a spouse as such. Call Buckingham, LaGrandeur, & Williams’ Renton offices to settle pet property disputes.