For many couples, a dog or cat is as much a part of the family as their children. Individuals involved in a Montana divorce are often more concerned about their pets than they are their house or belongings. Though Montana law does not treat pets in the same manner as children, they can be a very important piece of the divorce puzzle – one that must be dealt with carefully and with concern for what is best for a pet.
If you are divorcing in Montana, or plan to divorce, there are a few basics you must be informed of with regard to your family pets. First, no matter how much you may love your pets, Montana law still considers pets as property. While many pets have only sentimental value, others can be quite valuable (think horses and other livestock).
Because pets are property, the same rules apply to them that apply to any other kinds of property. In a Montana divorce, this means that the pets would become a part of the court’s property distribution and are to be “equitably apportioned” between parties. The exceptions to the rule are the same for pets as they are for other kinds of property. In other words, your pet remains non-marital property if it was (1) gifted to you individually; (2) you inherited the pet through an inheritance; or (3) you owned the pet prior to marriage.
As with most things in a divorce, it is ideal if you and your soon-to-be-ex-spouse are able to negotiate and agree on what will happen to your pets. In the event you cannot agree, the court could order the pet be sold and the proceeds split in some equitable manner.
If you have children that are particularly attached to your family pets, you may consider having the pets become part of your Parenting Plan as the children’s “property.” This is more easily accomplished with a dog or cat that can travel back and forth with the children.
If you are working with an attorney, make sure you communicate with him or her about how important your pets are to you and what you feel might be best for them. That way, your attorney can assist you in handling the issue.