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What happens to a pet in a contested Massachusetts divorce?

On Behalf of | Dec 28, 2023 | Divorce

Some couples maintain a positive relationship even when they decide to divorce. The spouses can move forward with an uncontested divorce in which they mutually agree to specific terms for support, property division and child custody matters. Many Massachusetts couples cannot achieve an uncontested divorce filing because they do not agree about what terms are fair and appropriate for their family.

The resolution of these fundamental disagreements require the intervention of a family law judge who will apply state statutes to their circumstances. Contested or litigated divorces can be unpredictable and frustrating for the people involved. Major decisions that can affect their lives for years to come are out of their hands and in the control of a judge who has a very limited understanding of their family. Judges have the authority to make many key decisions in a litigated divorce. For example, they might decide what happens with the family pet if both spouses would like to keep their dog, cat or other companion animal.

What is the Massachusetts approach to pets in divorce?

Families often have very strong emotional bonds with their companion animals. People may view a pet as part of the family, but legally it is not. Dogs, cats and other pets are technically personal property, not family members. Therefore, property division statutes, not custody rules, generally govern what would happen with a pet when spouses cannot agree on who should keep the animal.

Occasionally, Massachusetts judges may consider what they think would be in the best interests of the animal when deciding who keeps the animal. However, they can and often do simply treat the pet as a piece of property with a fixed financial value. Judges do not create shared custody arrangements for pets but instead allocate the animals to one spouse or the other in the divorce.

Those hoping to arrange for shared pet custody in Massachusetts typically need to handle those matters on their own. The family courts can approve property division settlements and custody arrangements that discuss a pet. Otherwise, people may have to accept the possibility of losing access to the pet at the end of a litigated divorce.

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