Couples without biological children may refer to their pets as their fur babies. Even those with children may still dote excessively on their companion animals, such as pet dogs or cats. For those couples, the custody or ownership of their beloved companion animal may be one of the most contentious issues in their divorce.
Both individuals may wish to retain custody of the pet(s) in divorce, but only one will typically receive any legal rights to the animal. Familiarizing yourself with how Colorado courts handle animals can give you an idea of what to anticipate in your divorce.
Animals are property, not people
You, no doubt, view your dog or cat as a member of your family. However, the Colorado courts will not have the same view of your animal. They consider it a possession with a financial value. That means it will be assigned a price and included in the equitable distribution of your overall marital assets and debts.
Unless you file an uncontested divorce or make an informal arrangement that you both stick to during and after the divorce, shared pet custody isn't likely to happen in a Colorado divorce. The courts will not consider making custody arrangements for animals. Instead, they will simply allocate the animal to one spouse or the other as part of the divorce proceedings. That could mean that your ex keeps your pet, and you will not have any right to visit or interact with the animal.
Certain factors may influence how the courts rule, including the ability of the individual to care for and spend time with the animal, as well as the best interests of any children in the family, who may have bonded with the family pet. It can be difficult to predict how the courts will handle a pet, as the asset division outcome in any divorce relates to so many different family variables.
Wanting shared pet custody could be a reason to seek an amicable divorce
If you wish to make arrangements that are outside the standard in most litigated Colorado divorces, you cannot expect the courts to do it on your behalf. However, the courts will typically approve uncontested divorces with unusual terms, provided that those terms do not violate state law. In other words, you can't waive the obligation to pay child support, but you could include a visitation schedule for your pet.
Whether you negotiate via your attorneys to file an uncontested divorce or agree to mediation, that may be the only way to create a binding document that creates a shared custody situation for your companion animal. If retaining your family pet is of importance to you in the divorce, you should advise your attorney as soon as you start meeting to discuss the terms of your divorce.