Dividing Divorce Assets: Are Pets Just Property?

Posted on: 12 January 2017

When it comes to custody decisions during divorce, you can expect to deal with some of the most contentious and divisive issues of all. Increasingly, divorcing couples find themselves dealing with not just custody of minor children, but with who gets the family pet. These animals can come to mean so much, and pet parents often find themselves engaged in a battle for ownership. Read on to learn more about how marital law applies to the family pet.

Not a custody issue. It's vital to have a full understanding of how the law views pets. While you may look at your fur babies as members of your family, the law sees pets as property. Just because your pets may fall into the marital property bucket, however, doesn't lessen the potential for problems. As far as pet custody and visitation, the law does not normally recognize provisions included in divorce and separation agreements.

Pet parenting solutions. Just because the law won't address pet parenting issues should not be a bar to you and your spouse creating your own agreement. While it is not likely to be legally enforceable, it may still help you two to make a plan that works for you. For example, if you cannot decide who should have the pet full time, you may be able to make an arrangement for sharing time with the pet 50/50.

Letting the judge decide. If you cannot work together to create a workable agreement and you allow the issue to be among the contested property in your divorce, the family court judge may be the decider. The judge will likely look at the following criteria when making the decision.

  • The pet's main caregiver and the person that fed, walked and groomed the pet.
  • The person responsible for taking the pet to veterinarian appointments.
  • The person that is more likely to allow visits by the other party.
  • The person who can provide the best living environment for the pet. For example, if one person can provide the pet with a big back yard or a nearby dog park and other person will be living in a small apartment, the judge may go with the person with the yard.

All things being equal. In many cases, both pet parents are fit to care for the animal. If the parties can cooperate with each other, the judge may order that both parties continue to own the pet and that they work out an agreement that divides their time with the pet equally.

Speak to your divorce attorney from a place like the Law Office of Jared T. Amos for more information.