Nancy and Bill are getting divorced. They have no children but they do have a Golden Doodle, Alfie that they purchased together after they were married. Nancy and Bill think of Alfie as their child, and they both want Alfie to live with them. Nancy wonders if she can file a Motion for Custody of the family pet.
Under Maryland law, Nancy cannot file a Motion for Custody. Alfie is not considered by law to be a child, or child-like even though Nancy and Bill think of Alfie as their child. In Maryland, a pet is considered tangible personal property. If the pet was purchased during the marriage, using marital funds, as Alfie was, then the pet is marital personal property. Nancy and Bill must either reach an agreement regarding Alfie, or Alfie may be sold like all of the other personal property they own together.
Nancy Kay, in her article “ Who Keeps the Family Dog”, suggests 5 things divorcing spouses like Nancy and Bill should consider when deciding who shall keep the family pet:
1. Who has a flexible work schedule or access to a reliable person who can fill in for them to care properly for the pet while they are at work.
2. Who has the financial means to provide for the pet throughout the expected length of the pet's life span?
3. Who has the majority of parenting time with the children who are attached to the family pet?
4. Has either of you neglected the pet's basic needs or acted abusively toward the pet?
5. Who will have more space for the dog to exercise and play following divorce?
Some States are enacting legislation that allows judges to decide custody of the family pet using the “best interest” doctrine just as they do when deciding custody of children, or determining that the pet should go with the children. We will see what changes, if any, develop in Maryland over the next few years.