When a married couple divorces, the question of who gets to keep the pets often arises. Whereas the laws are designed to protect the best interests of human children in divorce (allowing for shared custody, visitation, and alimony), the laws for pets are intended to benefit the owner instead. Under the law, pets are considered to be personal property, capable of human ownership and control. Courts working under that law only strictly have authority to award a pet to one owner or the other. To grant shared custody or visitation of the couple’s pets would be exactly the same, in the eyes of the law, as having them trade their television back and forth from one week to the next.

Normally, before a court decides who gets what property in a divorce, it must first consider whether its jurisdiction is a community property (split 50/50) or an equitable distribution (split fairly) state. It must then decide which property actually belongs to the couple (rather than to just the husband or the wife) and how much each piece of property is worth. Finally, it will take into account whether the couple already has some sort of agreement about who gets what (a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement). Even in deciding who gets the pets, the court goes through these same steps.

Because pets are becoming such a big part of our lives, some courts are beginning to change this analysis, and are willing to treat pets more like children. To date, this has primarily occurred with dogs. Courts have considered the best interest of the pets in determining who gets custody of them. They have also awarded shared custody, visitation, and alimony payments to the owners. If a court is unwilling to do this, owners often work out a contract between themselves instead.

If you are involved in any type of custody dispute with your significant other, your children, your pets, or all three, a family lawyer who has experience in custody disputes can help you decide the best course of action. Speaking with Attorney Joanne Zhou will be the best way to ensure you can maintain contact with your beloved furry friend.

CategoryDivorce, English