Many people express great concern over what happens to their pet in a contested divorce. This can be particularly worrisome if the relationship has been abusive and one party fears for the safety of the pet. In that event, Colorado law provides some special protections.
One state, Alaska, has now codified the rights of parties about their family pets upon dissolution of their marriage. The law became effective in January of 2017. If you want to read the text of their statute please check the Alaska State Legislature HB 147 which was signed last October.
In Colorado our courts do not recognize the same rights for pets or to families regarding pets. Under Colorado law, pets are considered property. However, our statutes do recognize a similar issue in terms of domestic violence and abuse. The court can award control of family pets through our domestic violence and abuse Temporary Civil Protection Order under C.R.S. §13-14-104.5.
Forms relating to Temporary Civil Protection Orders, including checklists, the motion and the order can be found on the Colorado judicial branch website. If your matter is being pursued through either legal separation, dissolution of marriage or allocation of parental responsibility case and you can file a temporary civil protection order in the same matter. Alternatively, you can advise the Court that you have filed such a protection order already in a different civil case so that it can be consolidated into the District Court matter. Always advise the Court of all legal processes so that the Court is aware of everything that is taking place. It is always better to err on the side of giving the Court too much information than not enough.
The Court will want to ensure that pets are safe in such circumstances. The Court wants to assure that the pets are not used as objects of control or subjected to violence.
At any hearing in your matter remember what you are there to address. Be sure you are using the time before the Court effectively. Do not use what little time you have to address minutiae. Your pets may be precious to you and have extreme importance to your family. However, keep in mind that you have a limited amount of time with the Court. Keep that presentation appropriate to their role in the case. Just two minutes may be sufficient if you are focused and direct. Most issues regarding pets can be handled in the usual course of business in a few quick statements to the Court.
However, if the pet matter is highly contentious or complex, consider having the Court appoint a Special Master. Paying for a Special Master to hear this issue outside of the court allows you to control the time spent on the issue. The Special Master will issue an award on the issue to the Court. This allows you to obtain a dedicated ruling on the issue and preserve the remainder of the Court’s time for the other issues in your case.