Who Gets Fido? A Look at Pet Custody in Mississippi

Bill and Susie met their family dog Jasper when they were just newlyweds.  Fresh from their honeymoon, Jasper wondered into their yard searching for scraps.  He soon became their loving, cherished pet.  When Bill and Susie’s relationship later deteriorated, and the threat of divorce became a reality, each made it very clear they wanted custody of Jasper.

Bill and Susie became entrenched in an increasingly common phenomenon—a pet custody battle.  Surveys show that over 70% of U.S. households contain at least one pet.  More than ever before, American families have come to view their pets as essential members of the family.  When spouses decide to divorce, many are left grappling with the issue of who should get the family pet.

So what should you do if you are or may become entrenched in a pet custody battle?  The following are a list of pointers:

  1. Consult with a local divorce attorney—the first step you should always take is to consult with a skilled divorce attorney in your state.  Pet custody is a fairly new issue that courts are still struggling to deal with.  A knowledgeable divorce attorney will often have experience with pet custody fights and will be able to advise you as to the best course of action.  Because pets are traditionally considered “property” in the eyes of the law, you will need the assistance of a savvy divorce attorney to ensure your pet custody dispute receives the attention it deserves.
  2. Gather documents to prove ownership– in many states, including Mississippi, pets are considered property.  Therefore, if you can show that you purchased your pet or adopted him/her, it may go a long way towards being awarded possession of your pet.
  3. Gather evidence you were the primary caregiver—if, like Bill and Susie, you cannot show ownership or you were not in fact the spouse to acquire the pet, do not despair.  Another method that has proven successful in court is showing that you were the primary caregiver of your pet.  This can include things like statements from neighbors who saw you consistently walking your dog, receipts showing you purchased your cat’s food, vet bills showing you brought in your ferret, etc.
  4. Start to negotiate—one of the best means to avoid the court room and ensure the outcome you desire is to negotiate with your spouse as to the custody of your pet.  Often the assistance of a divorce attorney with negotiation experience will be your best bet towards achieving success.  In negotiating with your spouse to receive custody of your pet, you could consider splitting up pets in multiple pet households, keeping the pet with your child, or even some sort of joint custody arrangement so you both maintain contact with your pet.  An experience divorce attorney with experience thinking outside the box can work with you and your spouse to create an arrangement that everyone, including your pet, is happy with.

Pet custody is a fairly novel issue for Mississippi courts.  While pets have been traditionally considered property, more and more courts are open to viewing pets more like family members than pieces of property.  In the case of Bill and Susie, they were able to agree that Susie would keep Jasper during the year and Bill would take him during the summers.  This arrangement suited both, as Susie worked fewer hours and could be home with the dog, while Bill’s workload lessened in the summer, freeing him to spend time with Jasper.

If you are considering divorce and anticipate their might disagreement over the custody of your pet, Matthew S. Poole can help.  Matthew is a skilled, compassionate Mississippi divorce attorney with experience in creative problem solving.  Call Matthew today at (601) 573-7429 to schedule a consultation.

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