What happens with your pet in a divorce?

How does a court determine who gets the pet in a divorce? Find out what the law says and what the courts will do in this situation.

When a couple divorces, they must divide their lives. The court will oversee the process and sometimes have to step in to make decisions, especially when it comes to property division and custody issues.

One of the trickiest issues in a divorce is what to do with the family pet. The way the law handles this issue often contradicts what people think should happen.

What the law says

Psychology Today explains that the court will handle a pet as it does any other type of property because, under the law, pets are property. Legally speaking, the court must treat them as it does any other property.

How courts make the decision

The court will first have to determine if the pet is marital or separate property. If one spouse brought the pet into the relationship or can prove that he or she owned the pet exclusively, then it is separate property. The court will award that spouse the pet in the divorce.

However, if the court decides the pet is marital property, it complicates things. Pets are living and breathing beings. The court cannot divide them as it would a home or a business.

Because of this, judges have a lot of discretion in how they handle the division of pets in a divorce. Some states have created laws specifically about how to handle pet custody, but most states leave it up to the judge.

Some courts will treat pets in a similar manner to children. They will set up custody and even visitation. This is not common, though. Most courts will assess pets like children but then award the pet ownership to only one spouse.

Considerations the court makes

When assessing the pet, the court will consider who bought it, who cared for it and other aspects of the couple's interactions with it. In general, a judge will look for which spouse would provide the best care for the pet and what will be in the best interests of the pet.

The court will default to the couple if they can decide on their own about pet ownership. The Chicago Tribune explains that couples should try to figure out pet arrangements before going to court because it will make it easier for everyone.

Whether a couple decides to settle their pet custody issues outside of court or wish to have the judge make the decision, it is essential they each have competent legal representation, such as The Law Office of Jeffrey Jones. Determining what will happen with a pet is often an emotional experience, and an attorney can help a person navigate the situation according to the law.