What to Do About Multiple Pets and Children in an Oregon Divorce?

The definition of family can change depending on the circumstances. A nuclear family has parents or stepparents and their dependent children. Extended relatives can live together and establish a family, such as a grandparent and grandchildren. Therefore, a family consists of two or more people related by birth, marriage or adoption who live together.

However, a family is more than the people in it; it branches out to the animals that households into the home as pets.  In 2022, 70 percent of households in the United States owned a pet. Common types of pets include dogs, cats, birds, fish, reptiles and horses. According to the Centers for Disease Control, pets can have health benefits for their owners, such as increased opportunities for exercise, companionship, more chances to socialize, a decrease in blood pressure and lowering feelings of anxiety.

During the marriage, the family can grow by having more than one child and multiple pets. The American Veterinary Medical Association reports that in 2020 pet households had approximately two dogs or two cats. In 2021, over 7 million families in the United States had three or more minor children in the home. Although, the average number is nearly two kids per household. 

The family enjoys special moments and makes memories together. As the family continues to flourish, the marital relationship can break down. Ultimately the spouses can decide to get a divorce, which affects the family structure.  

An Oregon divorce, called a dissolution of marriage, restores the parties to unmarried statuses.  The former spouses can now have separate paramour lives and even marry other people, their children and family pets still connect them. Each party may want to have custody of all their children and retain ownership of every pet; therefore, the dissolution case must resolve the disputes concerning such issues. However, Oregon law treats custody differently for children than pets.

Oregon has two types of child custody arrangements – joint and sole custody. In joint custody, the parents share the rights and responsibilities to make major decisions concerning their children, such as health care, education and residence. Under state law, if both parents do not agree to joint custody, the court cannot order the type of custodial arrangement.

The other option for child custody is sole custody. One parent is the custodial parent; the other is the noncustodial parent. The custodial parent has the authority to make the major decision for the child. The noncustodial parent receives parenting time, formerly called visitation. Also, the court can order the noncustodial parent to pay child support to provide for the child’s needs while in the care of the custodial parent.

When the court determines custodial arrangements, they must decide what is in the best interest of the welfare of the child. In Oregon divorce cases involving multiple children, the court is unlikely to separate siblings by awarding split custody unless it is best for the children. Split custody arrangements can occur with parents of multiple children. The judge may award sole custody of a child to one parent, with the other parent having sole custody of the other sibling. The court may find it necessary to separate custody of siblings in situations where one child is a danger to their brother or sister. 

Pet ownership sometimes mimics parenting, such as giving them names, feeding them, seeking health care and maintaining insurance coverage. Although pets receive care and compassion, as they are a part of the family, state law treats them as personal property.  Therefore in a divorce, pets are a part of the property distribution along with houses, cars, retirement benefits and other personal and real property.  

In an Oregon divorce, state law divides and distributes the spouses’ separate and marital property. Separate property is property a spouse acquires before they marry and property attained during the marriage from a will, by inheritance or as a gift only to the spouse. Marital property is property spouses obtain during the marriage. 

The court distributes separate property to the spouse that owns the item. If a pet is a spouse’s separate property, the pet remains with its owner. However, marital property division occurs by equitable distribution. The court distributes marital property in a manner that is just and proper under the circumstances. Possible factors in determining the distribution of multiple pets that are marital property may include:

  • Whether the obtainment of the pet occurred before or during the marriage,
  • Whether the parties have a premarital or postmarital agreement that addresses the distribution of pets in a divorce
  • Whether a party is the primary or sole caretaker of the pet
  • Whether a party can provide the adequate minimum care necessary to maintain the health and well-being of the pet
  • Whether a party mistreats or abuses the pet
  • Is the spouse the custodial or noncustodial parent?
  • Each spouse’s financial ability to provide for the needs of the pet
  • Whether each spouse has additional pets that are separate property

To schedule a consultation with one of our family law attorneys in Oregon or SW Washington, call us now at 503.222.9116 or write us.

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