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Pets and Custody

When two people break up who gets to keep the pet(s)? Can the court order joint custody and visitation of the dog or cat, as it would a child? Is a pet treated the same way as a child in the eyes of the law, or simply as property?

Pets have increasingly become more a part of the family over the years. Because people now see their pets as a family member, there have been new issues raised in the courts that were not even contemplated in generations past.

More and more people want to handle the disposition of their pets in the same manner that children are handled in the courts. However, the laws have not evolved as quickly as our culture has in viewing pets as family instead of property. It can be difficult to understand or even accept that your beloved “Fido” will be handled and thought of in the same manner as your coffee pot or dining table.

Due to the case load in the family court, judges do not view pet custody disputes like they do custody disputes involving human children. They will likely give custody to one party or the other.

Some courts have implemented a “best interests of the pets” standard when awarding “custody” of the family pets in divorces. This standard is similar the standard applied to children in family law cases. It may sound like it is the best way to handle custody of your fur babies, yet most of the courts in the U.S. do not believe they have the authority to apply this standard due to the fact that most laws, including Oklahoma’s law, view animals as property, not family. Additionally, the few courts that have implemented this standard have only applied it to dogs.

Even though they are viewed as property, the courts do see pets as being different than other types of property (crimes against animal cruelty) yet they do not see pets as children. Oklahoma courts are very busy handling the needs of human children going through custody disputes, that it is not likely the Oklahoma courts will enter into a visitation agreement of its own to cover pets.

A court in Illinois ended up ruling that it had no authority to enter into a visitation agreement for pets after the couple continued to argue over the terms of the agreement.

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