For most pet owners, family pets are more than just animals. They are members of the family. This issue can become a problem when spouses decide to divorce.

Who gets to keep the family pet? How are pets treated in a divorce in the State of Colorado?

Pets Are Personal Property

The term property can be a bit cold when it comes to family pets. But under Colorado law, pets are included in the items of personal property divided between the parties. Pets are thus treated according to the state’s rules of equitable distribution for all personal property in the marriage.

It does not matter how attached the pet owners may be to the specific pet. Certainly, that will be a consideration when determining who gets that specific item of personal property, but the pet will still be considered an item of property to be divided.

Unfortunately, the law offers very little guidance or guidelines on making a determination for who gets the pet. It is not the same as a custody question, such as deciding where the parties’ children will live.

When determining which spouse will get the pet, the court may look at the expenses that go along with the pet, including veterinary bills, in making the determination on who can continue to pay for the pet, as well.

The judge may also look to who will “house” the pet. If one spouse is keeping the marital residence where the children will stay and where the pet can live, as opposed to the other spouse who is moving into an apartment or condo that does not allow for pets, the decision may be relatively easy.

Since the pets are considered items of personal property, they also need to be assigned a value, just as any household item would need to be in property division.

The judge may look for who paid for the pet and how much that individual paid for the pet at the time it was purchased. If one spouse “gifted” the pet to the other, that will certainly be a consideration when it comes to deciding who keeps the animal.

If that spouse had the pet before marriage, that would also be a significant factor in determining who keeps the pet. Normally, in those situations, the pet owner who had the animal before marriage would be the person to keep the pet after the divorce is final.

Coming to an Agreement

Many judges are also pet owners and can understand this dilemma between the parties, but that does not mean the judges are not restricted by the law. The judge may personally not want to treat the pet like an item of property but has no choice when his or her hands are bound by what the law dictates.

Ideally, Colorado family judges like to see the parties come to an agreement on their own with respect to deciding who gets to keep the family pet. The judge is restricted to ruling that the pet be lumped in with items of personal property.

However, the parties are always able to work out an agreement or a custodial schedule, just like children. They can include this schedule for the family pets in a separation agreement that is then incorporated into the final order issued by the judge.

For instance, if the family pets are particularly important to the children, the pets can travel with the children and stay with the respective parent when he or she has time with the children. If the parties do not have minor children, they can still work out an agreement which can still be incorporated in the final divorce order.

Arbitration Regarding Pets

If the parties are not able to independently work out an agreement over who gets the pets, they can come to an agreement on submitting the issue to binding arbitration.

Arbitration is a form of alternative dispute resolution. In arbitration, parties submit evidence to a third-party, neutral arbitrator who can hear testimony from the parties and other interested individuals, can review evidence and even observe the interaction the pets have before a final decision on the matter.

However, if parties agree to arbitration, they also agree to abide by the final ruling of the arbitrator, even if that ruling is not in one of the parties’ favor. Like a settlement agreement, the arbitrator’s decision would be then incorporated into the final divorce order.

Call Us Today!

Divorce is complicated and can be a stressful matter for anyone, and we are here to help you through the process. Call the Law Offices of Kelli J Malcolm today for your free consultation at 720-261-7287.

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