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What to Do With Your Pets in Divorce


Divorce is difficult under any circumstances, and no one expects their trip down the aisle to eventually lead them to divorce court, but the divorce rate in Colorado is the 15th highest in the United States. America is a country that loves its pets like family members, and when spouses add pets to their family, they typically invest deep bonds of love and care into those relationships.

Colorado is not a strictly 50/50 divorce state for marital property or for child custody, but instead, the courts work under an equitable division of property rule in an effort to divide possessions and assets fairly. Colorado also has laws that place the best interests of children as its highest priority, and rather than applying a 50/50 parenting time division, parenting schedules are typically adapted to what works best for the family with the aim of encouraging continued frequent contact with both parents. But in Colorado, where nearly 50% of households have pets, the concern about what will happen to the pets during a divorce is a frequently asked question to family court attorneys by worried pet parents.

Determining Pet Custody in a Colorado Divorce

To date, Colorado has no specific laws concerning pet custody. Therefore, while the courts take each case on an individual basis, pets are treated as property, defaulting to the state’s fair and equitable division of property laws. Since pets are not children, parenting time schedules and financial support concerns for pets as of yet have no place in divorce law. Instead, the court typically considers the following when deciding on pet custody:

  • Did the pet belong to one spouse before the marriage, making it separate property and not subject to division?
  • How much time, care, and attention did each spouse devote to the pet?
  • What economic circumstances will each spouse have after the divorce?
  • What other assets did each spouse get in the division of property terms of the divorce?

Like other assets in a marriage, the court encourages divorcing spouses to work out the terms of pet custody through their lawyers or in mediation so the judge only needs to sign off on an existing agreement rather than making the judgment within the court.

Negotiating pet custody along with other assets may work something like this: If one spouse really wishes to keep a car, treasured piece of furniture, or vacation property, they may “trade” it for the custody of a pet.

Children and Pets

In cases of divorcing spouses with children, the judge may consider with whom the children spend the majority of their time. If one parent enjoys more parenting time or primary custody of the children, the judge may decide that the children and the pet should not endure a separation. Unless other circumstances weigh in, a judge is likely to award pet custody to the parent with whom the children reside most often.

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Protecting Your Pet Custody in Colorado

Because there are no laws specifically for pet custody in Colorado, a devoted pet parent should try to safeguard their right to keep a special pet either through a prenuptial agreement, through mediating a settlement agreement, or by turning the decision over to an arbitrator. Arbitration in Colorado allows for family members to testify and present evidence highlighting each spouse’s relationship to the pet in order to make a binding decision. In some cases, an arbitrator may even spend time observing each spouse with the pet before making a decision.

In the end, the best way to decide on pet custody is to place the needs of the pet above any rancor or contention you might feel toward your spouse and make a decision that’s truly in the pet’s best interest. Since no one knows your pet like you do, deciding the matter out of court is almost always a much better option than letting an impartial judge decide.

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