Pets and Divorce. Custody or Property?

Would you think that worrying about what happens to a dog or cat during a divorce is silly? Probably not if you are a pet lover.

When a couple decides to divorce, the concern over who gets the family pets is common. Pet lovers do not buy an animal, they adopt a family member. Unfortunately, while the law focuses on the best interests of human children, it sees pets as personal property. Therefore, courts tend to work under this strict interpretation of property.

Accordingly, asking for custody or visitation rights of a pet is equivalent to asking for those same rights to a television or microwave. Courts will typically start by first deciding if the pet is marital property. If the pet was acquired during a marriage, then it is ordinarily considered marital property. However, if it was owned by one of the parties prior to the marriage, it probably will be considered non-marital property. If the court decides the pet is marital it will then go through the same steps as it would other property, such as assigning a value and awarding it to a party.

The Court will NOT award visitation or support to the other party.

As reported by the Official Blog of the Trial Court Law Libraries, “…legally, pets are still property. And overburdened courts are unlikely to take on the challenge of supervising how divorcing couples deal with their pets…. [D]on’t for a minute think that court is a good place to resolve your disagreements about who gets the dog….[C]ourts do not treat custody battles over pets like they do child custody cases; they will not consider the ‘best interests of the pet’.”

However, if who gets the family pet becomes a contentious issue and the Court determines the pet is marital property, they may at times take into consideration:

  • Who can provide the best care for a pet?
  • Who has the strongest emotional bond?
  • Was the pet given as a gift to a specific person or the couple?
  • Also, the person awarded primary physical custody any children is likely also granted the family pet.

If you would like to speak with an attorney about your divorce and obtaining the ownership of your pets, please call our office to schedule a consultation.