A 2006 survey from the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers found that custody issues involving pets have become more common in recent years. While this may be surprising to some, many pet lovers can imagine the pain and loss they would feel if their pets were taken away as part of a difficult divorce. If such individuals do find themselves in family court, it is important for them to know how Georgia law will affect their pets during their divorce.
Many pet owners consider their animals as part of their family, but courts generally do not consider like children for the purposes of custody matters. Instead, pets are subject to distribution at the court's discretion during the property division phase of a divorce. In one case, a judge even threatened to place a couple's cat in the middle of a room and award custody based on which direction the animal ran.
The best way for divorcing spouses to control ownership of a pet following divorce is to reach an agreement on the matter outside of court and include the details in their divorce settlement. Couples who have yet to marry should consider addressing their pet in a prenuptial agreement. Of course, individuals going through a particularly bitter divorce may not be able to easily agree on this issue, which could mean using a third party to resolve the dispute.
When deciding custody of a pet, it is important to consider which spouse is more capable of providing primary care for the animal. For instance, a spouse who is rarely home due to business or other reasons has a weaker claim to a pet and should not expect to obtain ownership. Similarly, a divorcee who has already been awarded primary custody of a child may be more likely to secure pet custody as well, especially if the child and pet have developed a strong bond.
Source: Huffington Post, "Why Pets Matter In A Divorce," Silvana D. Raso, Nov. 17, 2012