Americans’ attitudes toward pets have changed over the last several decades. Today, many pet owners call themselves “pet parents” and their pets “fur babies.” While these relationships have evolved, animal law has been slow to follow suit. This can present some unique challenges when a married couple who shares a pet (or pets) decides to divorce. As is true of many circumstances surrounding divorce, you have options for dealing with this challenge. To make sure you are protecting your interests — and the best interests of your pet — it is wise to consult with an experienced Maryland divorce lawyer about your situation.
One location where the law is evolving is neighboring D.C. In April of this year, the “Animal Care and Control Omnibus Amendment Act of 2022” took effect. That new law says that, when a couple goes through a divorce or a legal separation proceeding, the trial judge should consider the “best interests” of the “pet animals” when deciding which spouse gets the pets.
Here in Maryland, the law functions differently. Maryland law says that pets are personal property, essential the same as a car, a boat, or a sofa. The significance of that — in terms of a divorce — is that your pets (much like that hypothetical car, boat, or sofa) are subject to equitable distribution if you acquired them during your marriage. (If you brought them into your marriage, the law often will deem them your non-marital property and you will retain them after the divorce. The same is true for pets your spouse brought into the marriage.)