What About the Pets? Many people think of their dog, cat or other pet more like a child - a member of the family - than as something they own. The family pet is certainly not just another piece of "property" like the furniture or the stamp collection, right? Surely the Vermont Family Court would agree! Sort of.
Pets are property. You might be surprised to learn that the Family Court will treat your animals as personal property. Much as one or the other of the parties to a divorce will be awarded the silverware, one of the parties will be awarded the family pet.
But Vermont courts do recognize that pets are different from other property. They are alive, and they form emotional attachment with family members. They need to be cared for in a way that things do not. We all know this, of course. But according to the law, animals are still property, not people.
The court will not order visitation for your pet. Even if you and the other party have an agreement to share ownership of your pet, the Court will not put that agreement in an order. The Family Court won't order this because it can't enforce that order. The only thing that the Family Court can do is award the pet to one or the other of you. Of course, in most cases it will be best for the pet to see each of you, and if the parties continue to have a "visitation schedule" on their own, that's great. What you won't be able to do is go back to Family Court to enforce that visitation, like you can for your children.
How will the court decide who gets our pet? The court will consider two things: the welfare of the animal, and the emotional connection between the animal and each spouse. So if you have a hearing on this issue - and one family took this very problem all the way to the Vermont Supreme Court - you will need to have evidence to show that you can provide the best care for your pet in the best setting for the pet's health. Also, you will need to have as much evidence as you can about your relationship with your pet.
How can I convince the court that I should keep my pet? Here are some ideas about what evidence you might use to show that your pet should stay with you:
Veterinarian visits where you took the pet for checkups or treatment
Photos of you and your pet
Testimony from someone who knows you well about how you care for your pet.
Want to read the case about pets in a divorce? Here you go: http://info.libraries.vermont.gov/supct/current/op2013-220.html