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How Are Pets Treated In A Maryland Divorce?


Washington D.C. recently passed a law allowing family court judges to consider “the best interests of the pet” when adjudicating a divorce case. This is the same standard that is used for children in all states across the country. While D.C. is in the minority, there is a growing trend across the U.S. to consider pets as part of the family—and not property. However, Maryland has yet to pass rules that allow the court to consider the best interests of the pet during a divorce case. Instead, you’ll have to finagle a suitable outcome with your former spouse to ensure the best interests of your pet. In this article, the Maryland divorce attorneys at Schlaich & Thompson, Chartered will discuss how the courts view pets during a divorce proceeding.

Understanding Maryland law when it comes to pets

Under Maryland law, pets are considered personal property. In D.C., you can argue that you and the pet spent the most time bonding with you or that you are better able to care for the pet’s needs. In Maryland, you have to litigate the case quite differently and make very different arguments.

In a recent Maryland divorce case that went to trial, the spouses owned two dogs. Both spouses were attached to the pets and each wanted sole custody of the pets. The wife argued that the dogs were purchased using non-marital funds (her own money) which would technically make the pets her sole personal property. This is the same type of argument you would use when determining ownership of a home or a car. The husband argued that the dogs were “family use” property items that were subject to distribution during the divorce. The court ultimately did what they usually do when dividing property. They gave one dog to each spouse. But the wife appealed.

“Family use personal property” in Maryland

“Family use personal property” includes items such as cars, furniture, and household appliances. It excludes items that were acquired by inheritance or as a gift from a third party. If the court rules that an item qualifies as family use personal property, the law gives the court the right to allocate use and possession from one spouse to the other while the case is pending and possibly for a limited transition period after the case is finalized.

In the case mentioned above, the Maryland court looked at the arguments presented by both spouses. The wife claimed that the dogs were her personal property, while the husband claimed that the dogs were family use personal property. In this case, the court sided with the husband. The wife attempted to argue that the money used to purchase the dogs came from her inherited money. Inheritance is considered the separate and individual property of one spouse as are any purchases made with the inheritance. However, the wife lacked clear proof that the dogs were purchased from inherited funds. Hence, the court sided with the husband.

Talk to a Maryland Family Law Attorney Today

Schlaich & Thompson, Chartered represents the interests of Maryland residents who are pursuing divorce. If you have questions concerning your pets or the best way to ensure they end up with you, please don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment with our Bel Air family lawyers.

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