January 25, 2011
PET CUSTODY AFTER DIVORCE
By: Susan Price, Senior Attorney
You asked how companion animals, such as dogs and cats, are handled in Connecticut divorce cases. Specifically, you wanted to know if pets are treated as personal property and if a divorced party can take action against an ex-spouse if the ex-spouse takes a pet from its legally-designated home or disposes of it by gift or sale.
We found no Connecticut statute or case that covers how animals are treated when a couple divorces. If Connecticut divorce courts act in a manner similar to other courts in community property states, the court would treat pets the same way as it handles other forms of personal property (McClain, Tabby, Knick Knack Paddy-Whack: Give the Dog a Home?” Michigan State University School of Law (2009)). That would mean including the pet in the marital estate, which a divorce court would then divide equitably (Wendt v. Wendt., 255 Conn. 918 (2000)).
Divorcing Connecticut couples can fashion settlement agreements covering care and custody of pets, which may include custodial arrangements and terms prohibiting one or both parties from selling or giving away family pets. If a judge finds the agreement fair, he or she will make it part of the final divorce decree, and it will then have the force of law (Hayes v. Beresford, 184 Conn. 558 (1981)).
The court usually takes into account the intent of the parties when one claims that the other has violated the terms of a divorce decree or settlement agreement. Unless the decree provides a different penalty, breach of its terms constitutes contempt of court. If the aggrieved party decides to go back to court and prevails on the contempt claim, the court must fashion a fair and equitable remedy.