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Indiana appeals court deals with pets and divorce

On Behalf of | Mar 28, 2023 | Divorce |

A few states have amended their laws to recognize that in divorce, pets are more than personal property to be divided along with the furniture and your other belongings. These states allow judges to consider which spouse has been the chief caregiver and what’s best for the animal. It’s best, however, when couples can negotiate this without having a judge make the decision.

As in most states, Indiana law still treats pets as property – even if they’re family. One case that recently made it to an Indiana appeals court shows the painful dilemmas this can pose.

What can happen when pets are legally considered property?

In their divorce last year, the wife was allowed to keep the family’s dog. However, the couple’s children were to be allowed to bring her with them when they spent time at their father’s home and the decree stipulated that “neither parent shall attempt to influence the children” in their decision.

It didn’t take long for the father to accuse his co-parent of contempt of court for keeping the dog during his parenting time. She in turn appealed the divorce decree, arguing that she got the dog in the divorce and shouldn’t have to let her accompany the kids.

The court ruled unanimously in the mother’s favor. The judge who wrote the decision acknowledged that it was a “regrettably a harsh and seemingly unfeeling outcome.” However, she noted that “under Indiana law, she is wife’s personal property, and the children cannot be awarded discretionary decision-making authority to transport wife’s personal property to husband’s residence during parenting time.”

Could a “pet-nup” be the answer?

Most people would say that they’d never use a beloved pet to get back at their spouse in divorce – particularly if there are children involved. However, there’s no guarantee of how you’ll feel if your marriage is ending – or of what your spouse may try.

That’s one reason why couples are increasingly including provisions regarding pets in their prenuptial agreements or even getting an agreement that addresses only that issue (sometimes known as a “pet-nup”). This can also be done in a postnuptial agreement.

Whether you’re contemplating a pet-nup agreement or you’re considering what kind of arrangement you want to seek as you plan for divorce, it’s important to know what Indiana law says. Having experienced legal guidance can help you as you make this and other difficult decisions.