Not all families involve children. Even those that do may also include four-legged family members. Pets and companion animals often wind up overlooked in the early stages of a divorce. It can take someone a little bit of time to come around to the realization that a divorce will affect their "fur baby" as well as their children and finances.
For many people, especially those without children, possession of a pet after a divorce can quickly become a very contentious issue. If you feel worried about how you and your spouse will address your pets in your divorce, educating yourself about Colorado's approach to animals in a divorce can help.
Colorado courts view animals as property, not as people
While you know that your pet is a very important part of your family, legally speaking, your pet is a possession. Companion animals often have large emotional value to the people who raise and care for them. However, from the point of view of the court, it is a possession, not afforded the same rights and considerations as a person.
Unless your animal is a prize-winning show dog or a champion breeder, the financial value of your animal is probably relatively small. The courts will not assign an arbitrary value simply because both you and your spouse hold strong emotional attachments to the dog. Certain other factors, like the attachment of minor children and their living arrangements in a divorce, could affect how the courts handle your pet.
You may be able to negotiate for possession of the dog with your spouse prior to filing divorce. Most likely, you will have to offset maintaining ownership of the animal with some other valuable consideration. The courts will likely approach who keeps your pet in the same manner. In a best-case scenario, they may consider who spent more time with the animal or who can provide a better home. Most times, sadly, that level of concern for the animal will not occur in court.
Is your pet marital property or separate property?
One of the most important factors that will determine how the courts handle your pet is when you obtained your pet and how you did so. Typically, anything you acquired during marriage belongs jointly to you and your spouse.
Exceptions to this rule include when something you own was a gift or part of an inheritance. If a friend gave you your pet, you may be able to claim your pet as separate property. The same may also be true if you inherited your pet from a deceased loved one. Similarly, if either spouse owned the animal prior to marriage, that may make the animal separate property.
However, if both spouses contributed to the maintenance and care of that animal during the marriage, including by walking the dog, cleaning the cat litter or paying veterinary bills, that could make the courts consider your pet marital property, even if it would otherwise be separate property.
Unless you have an ironclad case for your pet being separate property, chances are strong that the courts will view it as marital property. You should prepare yourself for the possibility that your spouse will receive the pet, not you, and decide now how much you are willing to compromise to secure possession of your pet in a divorce.