You may consider your pet to be like a child to you, but the Court sees it differently.
While some US states and even other countries (most recently, Spain) have passed laws that give judges a longer leash in determining who gets to keep the dog in a divorce, Connecticut still regards pets as possessions.
Under Connecticut law, pets are technically property, pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46b-81. There is nothing in the Connecticut statutes presently that gives the court the authority to treat pets as anything other than an asset to be divided in a divorce if there is a trial, nor to consider the interests of the children when it comes to dividing property.
In practice, just as with sentimental items of personal property, there is little to stop a trial court judge from considering who purchased the pet, who provided the care and attention to the pet, and who is in a position to care for the pet best going forward. While there is nothing in the statute permitting the court to consider the children in determining where the pet should go (custody and property are addressed in different statutes), there is nothing to stop a judge from being aware of such facts from the custody aspects of the litigation. Judges have tremendous discretion when dividing the property in a divorce, so long as they do not cite any impermissible criteria in justifying the decision. For purposes of trial, a litigant who wishes to retain a pet should attempt to establish the history and care of the pet favorably as well as any other factors that would tend to persuade a judge, based on the law and on the judge as a human being, to want to award that pet to the litigant.
On the other hand, litigants have tremendous flexibility to craft settlement agreements that can effectively provide for various forms of sharing a pet, which can be later enforced by the court as with any other property order. As with many areas of divorce, the most humane and reasonable result can generally be best achieved and achieved most efficiently via settlement, rather than trial.
Of course, some pets have more than just sentimental value. From prize racehorses to French bulldogs valued at over $30,000, the asset value of some animals must also be weighed in dividing the value of the estate. For those pets, the court must consider the value as of the date of divorce as part of the apportionment of property.
Staying ahead of potential problems and addressing them amicably is an important part of our commitment to doing all that we reasonably can to help our clients emerge positively from the divorce process.