When avid equestrians divorce, deciding who should keep the horses is often the most difficult part. If the couple can not agree in mediation, the court may need to step in.
As with any matter of property division, the decision depends on a few factors.
How much is the horse worth?
The court will consider the animal’s monetary value when determining the division of assets. It may be necessary to consult an equine appraiser if the couple can not agree on the horse’s value.
Who cares for the horse?
Unlike many states, Massachusetts does not always distinguish between separate and marital property in divorce cases. Massachusetts is also not a “50/50” state when it comes to dividing assets. Rather, the state follows an equitable distribution process based on a number of factors, including each spouse’s contribution to the marriage.
This means that if one spouse owned the horse before marriage but the other contributed more to the animal’s care, the court might award the horse to the latter spouse.
Is a child the horse’s primary caretaker?
If a child rides, shows and cares for the horse, the court should consider this and may favor the custodial parent in determining who should keep the animal. The court might also order the non-custodial parent to pay a portion of the horse’s upkeep.
Can the couple remain co-owners of the horse?
It is not uncommon for two parties to own a horse jointly. If neither spouse is willing to part with the horse, it may be possible to come to an agreement on co-ownership.
Dividing high-value assets is never easy, especially when the asset in dispute is a beloved animal. Equestrian couples should consider the best interests of their animals when deciding whom they should live with.