For those who don’t have pets, this may seem like a silly question in the big picture of a divorce. I know first-hand that for many pet owners, this is a very important question that can take on many of the same aspects as determining parenting arrangements for children. I’ve been personally involved in these discussions at times.

The answer depends on what process you’re using to resolve your divorce. The court views pets as personal property, just like your cars, furniture and jewelry. The court will not arrange for parties to share time with pets or make visitation arrangements, just like the court will not arrange for parties to share or visit furniture. The pet goes with the party that makes the best argument for keeping it and the court assigns a dollar value to the pet. For pet lovers, this may sound like a harsh remedy.

If you and your spouse are making the divorce decisions for yourselves, then the options for pets are wide open. Parties can agree to virtually anything they want. You can split time with the pet, using a schedule that works for everyone involved. The pet can live with one individual with the other person visiting as agreed. Sometimes there are multiple pets and each individual keeps one or more of them, possibly with arrangements to have them visit each other.

Just like any other important divorce provision, your pet arrangements should be part of a written, enforceable contract. If the pets are important enough to be included in the divorce discussion, you don’t want to leave the future of those arrangements to chance.

You and your spouse have the most flexibility to make arrangements for your pets if you keep your divorce decision-making private and outside of the court system. It’s one more reason to embrace the alternative dispute resolution methods of collaborative law and mediation.