Pet Custody and Crafting Pet Parenting Plans

Pets day-to-day care plan
May 29, 2020

In this modern world, there is a growing trend of couples choosing not to have children.  This is especially the case when individuals are more inclined to focus on careers and other responsibilities.  For those couples who still wish however, to add to their family unit, there may be an inclination to add furry friends to the family nucleus.  As more households include pets, it is no surprise that pets can and do become a central focus when couples split in their divorce proceedings.  So, who gets the pets in a divorce? What can courts do when “dividing” a pet in matrimonial proceedings and what part should you play in resolving this dispute regarding your family pet?

Legally, pets are not afforded the same rights as a child and whilst you may consider your pet to be your child, the courts will not see it that way.  Instead the court will look at pets as property and so, since pets are considered property, there is no “custody” issue to be resolved.   This does not mean you and your ex-spouse need not be creative when resolving disputes related to your pet.

Here are some things to consider:

Brainstorm a pet parenting plan: There is no limit to creativity when it comes to the idea of crafting a pet parenting plan. Brainstorm a pet parenting plan that allows you and your ex-spouse to have regular visitation with your family pet. Similar to a child custody and visitation agreement, you and your ex-spouse can agree on who pays for vet bills, who is responsible for visitation travel, and the date and time for regular visitation. Ask your solicitor to assist in formalizing a contract to crystalize the pet parenting plan that you and your ex-spouse have agreed to. It is important to remember that the courts have no power to make orders regarding pet custody since pets are considered “property.” The same custody rights that children are afforded are not the same with your pet.

When brainstorming a pet parenting plan, it is important that both you and your ex-spouse be mindful and sensitive towards the needs of a pet.  You may want to discuss with your ex-spouse the time each of you spend with the pet, as the pet will certainly be bonded to one individual over the other.  Who has more time to spend time with the family pet on a daily basis? Who travels frequently? Who takes the family pet to the vet and to pet playdates? Who has care and control of the children and does this affect a pet parenting plan as the children may be closely bonded to the family pet?  These are all important considerations to be mindful of when brainstorming a pet parenting plan.

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Pet Timeshare/Visitation Schedule: Similar to a child sharing plan, a pet parenting plan can outline the visitation times you and your ex-spouse will share your beloved pet. You and your ex-spouse can be creative in how you want to divide time with your pet, as long as you both agree to a suitable timeshare. Need some ideas?  How about:

  • Every other weekend and one night a week
  • One week on, one week off
  • 2-2-5-5 schedule: Parent 1 has the pet for two days. Parent 2 has the pet for the following two days. Parent 1 has the pet for the next five days. Parent 2 has the pet for the next five days and so on.

The above pet parenting schedules are just a few examples of how pet parenting can be divvied up between you and your ex-spouse. But ultimately, a pet parenting schedule should be crafted so it is tailored to what works for you and your ex-spouse. You both may also want to consider pet timeshare during major holidays, which can also include Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, pet birthdays and long-weekends. What happens if your ex-spouse wants to move away to another city? Have an open discussion with your ex-spouse about who will get primary custody of the pet and consider allowing the other pet parent to have time with the pet for the entire summer. If your pet is involved in extra-curricular activities, the party that is responsible to take the pet to these activities should be memorialized in your agreement. These days, there are so many activities that pets can become involved in, including pet play dates with other pets and their owners or even “Yappy Hours” that allow pet parents to meet, mingle and drink with other pet parents and their pets.  In the USA, they even have “Hoppy Hour” for those who are bunny parents and where bunnies can mingle and play including agility classes where bunnies learn to hop over obstacles and compete in races!  Be creative, it is up to you both as dedicated pet parents!

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Shared Costs For Your Pet: Another issue you and your ex-spouse may want to weave into your pet parenting plan is how costs will be shared between the two of you. Having a pet is expensive. There are vet bills to consider, in addition to costs for food, maintenance and grooming. If you have a dog, there may be dog walkers and doggy daycare costs to be considered too. There will also be transportation costs to calculate into the equation when you and your ex-spouse have to transport your pet to and fro from each household.

Assign The Ultimate Decision-Maker: Generally, when parents fight for child custody in Hong Kong in a divorce, one (sole) or both parents (jointly) will be assigned custody over the child, with one parent having care and control and the other parent access. Although pets are not treated with the same legal considerations as a child, this is something that you may want to discuss and consider when sharing a pet with your ex-spouse. For example, who will be the ultimate decision maker when your pet becomes ill?  Who will make decisions related to your pet’s death, burial and costs associated with your pet’s death? These are all things you definitely should consider if you and ex-spouse are committed to sharing your pet after a divorce.

Finally, here a few more things to consider when crafting a pet parenting plan which focuses on the mental health of both yourself and your pet!

Talk to a Solicitor, Talk to Your Veterinarian: Pet custody is a real issue, especially now that pets are no longer considered just “pets” but are quickly becoming valuable members of a family. In the event that you establish a pet parenting plan, you may also want to consider consulting with your veterinarian so he or she can give you tips on how to make the transition easier for your pet now that your furry four-legged friend is being shuttled between two households. Like children, pets undoubtedly require a level of consistency between two households.

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Consider Talking To A Therapist: In the event your ex-spouse has “custody” of your pet, you may want to consider speaking with a therapist. In a divorce, there is truly a sense of loss and a grieving process that each member of the family must go through.  The grieving process may be magnified if you no longer have access to the family pet especially if a close bond was established with the pet during the marriage.  It is for this reason why brainstorming a pet parenting plan may be something to consider, especially if it helps lessen the sense of loss you may feel and experience during the divorce process. 

Remember to be creative when drafting a pet parenting plan.  Like children, focus on what is in the best interests of your pet!

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