A pet custody agreement is a contract used to assign custody of a shared pet. This document is common among individuals in a romantic relationship, as it helps them decide on the ownership of a pet if their relationship ends.
This agreement stipulates who retains ownership of a pet and which party is responsible for financial upkeep. It also clarifies whether there will be visitation time for the non-custodial party.
What Is a Pet Custody Agreement?
A pet custody agreement is a legal document between two parties to establish the custody of a pet. It’s especially useful in case of a divorce because many courts can’t order pet custody during a legal separation, unlike they can with childcare. Courts often treat the pet as property, and the person who purchased the pet or paid for most of the pet’s upkeep would likely receive complete ownership.
An agreement that both parties consult on and agree to is the best way to handle a situation where both spouses want to share time with the pet.
When a Pet Custody Agreement Is Needed
You can draw up a pet custody agreement with another party at any time. You may consider creating this contract when you’re on good terms with the other party, as it may be easier to agree to terms when you’re together. After the end of a relationship, it can be more challenging to agree to terms, especially if the split is less than amicable.
You and the other party can enforce the pet custody agreement at the end of a relationship, including a cohabitation relationship where you lived together but were never married. In some circumstances, the agreement might be a good idea for long-term roommates who adopt or purchase a pet together.
If both parties have grown attached to the pet, this agreement can stipulate how the time is split so that neither party has to give up total ownership.
Consequences of Not Having a Pet Custody Agreement
If a marriage or partnership ends with animosity, pets can sometimes get caught in the crossfire. Often, spouses believe they will retain ownership of the dog or cat, but that’s not necessarily how it will work without an agreement.
For instance, if you already have a pet before entering into a relationship, you may be able to retain ownership. But it might not be clear-cut if you don’t have proof that you purchased the animal. If your ex-spouse has records indicating they paid for veterinary visits and other expenses, they may have a more straightforward case of ownership.
Here are a few consequences that can arise with no pet custody agreement in place:
- One spouse may demand the pet out of spite.
- The family pet might be taken away from the children in the family.
- Pets may need to be put up for adoption after a divorce.
- Pets who grew up together may be separated.
Common Uses of a Pet Custody Agreement
Because each household is different, pet custody agreements should be drawn up best to fit the parties’ and pets’ interests. Often, the document will include clauses about visitation or shared custody. Owners should carefully consider the pets’ and their own needs. Some animals do better with structure and routine, so having them moved around too often may not be optimal.
Other clauses to consider within this agreement include:
- Financial Needs: Both parties should agree on how to structure financial concerns for the pet. They may outline who pays for needs like grooming, veterinary visits, dog walkers, and pet daycare.
- Medical Oversight: Often, one party takes the lead in taking care of veterinary visits. The contract would indicate which party would be in charge of taking the pet to appointments and making medical decisions for the pet.
- Visitation: In cases where the pet remains permanently in one household, there may be a clause giving the other ex-spouse set days or hours to visit the pet or take the pet out to a park.
It’s always ideal to include as much information in this document as possible. If the contract doesn’t specifically list an area of concern, it should be added to avoid possible issues.
What to Include in a Pet Custody Agreement
You can include many clauses when drafting a comprehensive pet custody agreement. Take into consideration your specific needs and the best interest of the pets. You may also find that the contract needs to be updated due to lifestyle changes or financial situations. The contract can be amended to reflect new circumstances provided both parties sign the new agreements and changes.
The following are some clauses and sections you may consider including:
- Introduction. This section details the parties and the pets involved in the custody agreement. A straightforward case might discuss two parties and one pet. If there are multiple pets, the options would be to keep them in one household or split the pets between the two parties.
- Custody. This section determines the primary household where the pet resides and may include joint custody if spouses agree to split time with the pet.
- Visitation. This section stipulates the times and days the non-custodial pet owner could visit with the pet.
- Transportation. In cases where pet owners split custody, the parties can include a clause dictating which owner is responsible for transporting the animal. For instance, your clause might stipulate that the ex-spouse must pick up the pet and drop it off after a visit.
- Financial Responsibility. This dictates the portion of financial responsibility each party takes for pet maintenance.
- Major Decisions/Medical Decisions. This clause indicates who can make significant decisions for the pet in case of a medical need or emergency. You may stipulate that both parties must agree, or you may decide that either party with the animal has the authority to decide on the other’s behalf.
- Limitations on Transfer. This section will discuss whether either spouse can transfer pet ownership. For example, you might stipulate that neither party can transfer the pet to a pound without the other party’s consent.
You might add other clauses to this contract depending on your specific needs. Pet custody agreements should also be signed, notarized, and kept on file.
Pet Custody Agreement Sample
Review our pet custody agreement template below, which is available to download as a PDF or Word file: