Divorces can be incredibly stressful on all involved: both spouses, the children, and other family members. A multitude of issues can arise during a divorce proceeding that may include, community debts, real estate, child support, and spousal support. There may even be issues of physical and/or sexual abuse within the household. To top it all of, a dispute can often arise about the family pet. While on it's face, this may seem trivial, in reality it may become an issue that becomes front and center in the divorce case.
Unfortunately, Louisiana law does not provide much guidance on this issue. In fact, animals are legally perceived as "corporeal movables". What is a corporeal movable? Louisiana Civil Code art. 473 defines corporeal movables as things "whether animate or inanimate, that normally move or can be moved from one place to another." So basically, the family pet will fall under the same category as a piece of furniture or utensils. While this seems harsh, the courts have recognized "the emotional bond that exists between some pets and their owners and the 'family' status awarded some pets by their owners." Barrios vs. Safeway Insurance Company, 97 So.3d 1019, 1024 (La. App. 4th Cir. 2012).
When filing for divorce, a party should specifically request "use and possession" of the family pet. In preparation for the trial (if necessary), several factors can be considered:
1. If there are children, who is the domiciliary parent?
Children especially love their pets. This is a well-known fact. If depriving the children of the family pet will cause unnecessary emotional strain on the children, this should be a dominant factor.
2. Who purchased the animal, and was it before the marriage?
If the pet is considered separate property by the courts, the original owner will likely be allowed to keep the pet. Example: Husband buys the dog prior to getting married. One year later husband marries wife. Three years later they divorce. The family dog will likely be considered separate property.
3. Is the animal an "emotional support" animal?
An emotional support animal is an animal usually designated by a mental health professional as being therapeutic for the patient. Emotional support animals can greatly help individuals with disabilities cope with stress and anxiety. If your animal is an emotional support, you will likely have a compelling argument that the animal should remain in your possession.