Law in Every Day Life: Pet Law Fundamentals

Do you have a pet, or are you thinking of adding one to the family? If so, have you ever wondered what would happen to your pet if you got divorced or if you died? I have, so I figured you might have too.

I know this isn’t something I usually write about, but we all encounter these everyday legal issues and I thought it would be fun. (Yes, reading about law can indeed be fun.)

There are four common situations where familiarity with pet law can save you a lot of time, and potentially, heartache.


Four Fundamentals of Pet Law

1. Buying a Pet.

According to the American Veterinary Medicine Association, 21 states have so called “pet lemon laws” that allow a buyer of a pet to return the pet to the seller for a full refund in the event that the pet has an illness or disease.

In most states, you will have between 15 to 60 days to return the poor little guy. It depends.

2. Owning a Pet

There are a number of laws that outline what kind of care you should be giving your pet. They vary from state to state. In most states, you can’t leave your pet outside in extreme weather conditions, such as hot, cold, or hurricane weather.

And interestingly enough, while you always see something in the news about a baby being left in a hot car, rarely are the hot car deaths of animals mentioned. It’s also illegal if you leave a pet in a hot car. Not that we think YOU would do such a thing, of course.

3. Divorce of the Owners

Let’s address divorce briefly. By law, pets are personal property. Like your clothes, shoes, or jewelry. Although there is much more meaningful attachment to our pets than to personal effects, the law treats them the same.

As a result, in the event of divorce where the ownership of a pet is in dispute, the court will analyze certain factors to determine who should receive the pet. These factors are different from the factors a court will consider when determining custody of children. In those cases, custody is determined by considering the best interests of the child.

In determining ownership of a pet following divorce, the court would look to see who took care of the pet, paid for it, and spent time with it.

Note: If the pet is a family pet and if children are involved, the pet will probably go to the person who receives custody of the children.

4. Death of the Owner

We all want our pet(s) to be loved and cared for after our passing. As a result, if you have a pet, consider listing in your will or trust a provision that states who will receive your pet and how money you will leave for its care.

While you may create a “pet trust” to outline the care of your pet,  there’s definitely someone out there who will gladly “adopt” your pet for free. But if  that’s what you want to do, go ahead. You won’t be the first or the last!

Fun fact: Leona Helmsley left millions of dollars to her dog. (Most of which was never spent in the interest of her dog either, might I add.)

I hope you enjoyed this post and learned something new. If you still have questions, keep the conversation going in the comments below.

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