Special to DadsDivorce.com
Child custody agreements are top priorities for divorcing parents.
But what divorce advice is out there when it comes to dealing “man’s best friend” and custody laws? Who is responsible for vet bills, food costs and care for the family pet?
According to 2011 reports from the American Pet Products Association, Americans’ pet care spending is over $54 billion. With dogs and cats treated like members of the family in most homes, and kids’ attachments to their pets strong, conflicts arise over where cats and dogs should reside.
Family law attorneys will tell you that the pets usually go with the kids in order to create a sense of continuity for the children.
This can aid in transitioning a child to a shared custody schedule. Pets have an amazing capacity to soothe; they will help your children cope with the divorce process, during and after.
Life can be kept familiar and consistent if the child is used to having their pet(s) around. Plus, taking pets for a “road trip” to their other pet parent’s house makes the experience more positive for kids, especially an only child who may be making the change on their own.
There may be no price tag on a family pet, but they are a big expense.
Annual exams can be easily budgeted into an agreement, but spouses also need to consider the amount of medical costs they are responsible for outside of typical mandatory care.
One spouse may have not wanted the pet in the first place and therefore may not want to split vet care costs. Perhaps a pet develops diabetes and requires a lifetime of costly medication. What if the dog suffers a chronic skin infection and requires thousands of dollars in allergy testing and years of treatment? Those fees are more extreme than a routine exam and vaccinations.
Health care and scheduled time with children are the main issues focused on when pet custody agreements are drafted. Friendly terms between divorcing and divorced spouses may allow flexibility in creation of an informal agreement without the legalese.
But, a civil relationship between former spouses may not always be reality, so families rely on the court to make decisions.
Unfortunately, “most judges do not want to spend time on pets or visitation arrangements,” said Susan Elliott, the author of “Getting Past Your Breakup: How to Turn a Devastating Loss Into the Best Thing That Ever Happened to You.”
Elliott explains that’s why attorneys typically set the terms outside of court.
As always, heed the adage “get it in writing.” Even if a spouse is planning on surrendering custody and responsibility to their former partner, have an agreement drawn up and fully executed that memorializes both parties are acknowledging these terms.
Read Related Article: “Custody Laws When Dealing With Pets“
Tara Lynne Groth is a full-time freelance writer residing in Cary, North Carolina. Her work has appeared in places such as GO (AirTran Airways’ in-flight magazine), the Providence Journal and Chesapeake Family. Learn more about Tara by visiting her website www.taralynnegroth.com.