Who keeps the pet? A question that no doubt arises in many break ups and divorces. For the gays, this can be a very contentious point. A pet for a gay is often a glamorous child substitute. They are friendly, they are there for you when a man is not, and most importantly, they are what your Instagram completely relies on for likes. So what happens to pets when relationships go sour? Who keeps the LIKES…I mean…pet. Well, in California, this can be quite a messy issue.
For divorcing couples, it is important to remember that pets are not considered children and will be treated according to the rules of property division during a divorce.
First, let’s frame the easy scenario. You had a pet before your relationship. You bought it, it is registered in your name, you pay the vet bills, and you (and ONLY you) have been handing over 50% of your biweekly paycheck to pay for Blue Buffalo for the past 3 years. The pet in this scenario is quite simply yours. While a man who later came into your life may love the pet and thinks it at some point became “our pet,” this would be difficult for him to prove. Even if you were married and are divorcing, if the pet was yours before, it is yours later.
More complicated, you brought the pet into your marriage. Maybe it was a birthday present, maybe it was an “I’m Sorry” present, maybe it was a last ditch effort at togetherness before opening the flood gates to trying an open relationship (I digress). In this scenario, a court may look to factors such as who brought the pet into the relationship. If the pet was a gift, the recipient of the gift generally gets to keep it. If the pet is a registered breed, the registrant generally gets to keep it. A number of factors can come into play here. The smartest thing to do is to agree to some time of pet visitation arrangement during your divorce. Play nice, and you may be able to keep your pet as long as you let your ex see it. Eventually, your ex might not care anymore and it may be a win-win.
Generally, courts do not want to be tied up with your pet drama. Yes, they are a key gay accessory and often part of the family, however, family law courts are inundated with cases of custody for real children and we all have to agree (though some of you still will not) that real children are more important than pets.
What about my daters out there? Well, you have the benefit of not needing to go to court to end your relationship. However, the same rules generally apply. If you pet was yours, it is always yours. If you bring a pet into an existing relationship, I highly recommend coming to an agreement (in writing) as to who gets to keep the pet or sharing visitation if the relationship ever ends. It’s not fun, but it’s better than risking never being able to see that pet again. Generally, the pet belongs to the person it is registered to (if it even is registered…I should really get on that). Thus, if you have been picking up the vet or food tab for your boyfriend’s dog, I would suggest that you playfully present your man with a pet agreement while he’s in a good mood that says you can split ownership if and when he is no longer your man.
Questions, comments, concerns, think you may need an attorney?