If you watched the movie Legally Blonde, you would remember the scene where Elle Woods helped Paulette Bonafonté retrieve Rufus, Paulette’s pit bull, from her ex. In that scene, Elle explained to Paulette’s ex that, since he retained the trailer, Paulette was “entitled to full canine property ownership.” Yes, yes, you read it correctly—"canine property.”

What Elle meant was that our beloved pets and companion animals, who shower us with positive vibes and improve our physical and mental health are “property” in the eyes of the law. While family law is designed to protect “the best interest of” our human babies in custody disputes, our fur babies do not enjoy the same legal protections because the law is designed to protect the interests of the owner.

There are currently just a few states with pet custody laws in our big nation, and South Dakota is not one of them. In the State of South Dakota, when a divorce is granted, property—like a trailer—is divided equitably between the former spouses. Meaning, only one spouse will enjoy ownership of the said property because, frankly, it would not make sense for the courts to order spouses to trade, let’s say a trailer, back and forth from one week to the next. Same logic and legal principle are applied to custody determination of our companion animals.

Good news is that despite not having pet custody laws in South Dakota, nothing stops former spouses from negotiating and making an agreement to a custody arrangement of their furry friends. This agreement may be later incorporated into the divorce decree and be enforced in court, if needed.

Granted, former spouses may not always come to an agreement or wish to cooperate, and this is when, we, as attorneys, come to aid our clients. We are here to do our best and help you gain custody of your best friend in the end.  Please do not hesitate to schedule a consultation with one of the experienced family law attorneys at Goosmann Law Firm today.  

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