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Who Keeps a Pet After a Divorce?

Divorces are often complicated. Children, marital property and even pets can make matters even more stressful.

By Mariela CorellaPublished 4 years ago 3 min read

Pets are an important part of our lives and many of us consider them a part of the family. According to a survey by the American Pet Products Association, 67% of households in the U.S. own a pet. During a divorce, couples have to make tough decisions about child custody, alimony, dividing property, and about who gets to live with the family pet. This conflict can be solved outside of court through mediation and a visitation schedule could also be drafted so that all parties can still see and be involved in the pet’s life. However, there are times when an agreement can’t be reached, and a judge must step in and decide who gets custody.

Determining Pet Custody

If your pet custody battle is brought into court, then a judge will make the decision on which side gets to keep the pet and if a visitation agreement should be enforced. A judge will look at each side’s lifestyles and who the pet will be more comfortable and happier with. Speaking with a family law attorney could help you keep your pet or win your pet custody battle. Some of the aspects a judge could consider include:

• Who is the pet’s primary caretaker?

The judge will probably be more willing to give custody to the person who was the pet’s primary caretaker. He may ask question like who fed them daily? who took them out on walks? Who groomed them and took them to the veterinarian when needed?

• Who can provide the best care in the future?

A judge will also consider which side will be able to take better care of the pet in the future. For example, who will be able to spend more time with them. If one side is moving to a small apartment without a yard and the other will be moving to a house, the pet will be happier living in a bigger space. If one side works long hours or travels often and the other works from home, the dog or cat will be better taken care of with someone that is home most of the time.

• Who is more financially stable and can take on the pet’s expenses?

If one of the parties has steep financial obligations like alimony, child support, high debts, etc. then it could be difficult for them to take on the added expense of a pet. A judge may favor the side that has the necessary means to cover for the pet’s needs.

• Is the pet a support animal?

If the pet involved in the dispute is a support or service animal for one of the parties, then this is an important aspect to consider when determining who will keep it.

Pets and the Law

Under the law, pets are considered personal property or an “asset”, which is why it’s important to note that if the pet was purchased or adopter before the marriage or during a prior relationship, then it is not considered “marital property” and the owner will most likely be able to take the pet with them.

It may be in your best interest to save money, time and energy by solving this issue outside the court through mediation. Try to reach a visitation schedule that both parties feel comfortable with and truly consider what is the best outcome and living situation for your pet. If an agreement through mediation is not possible, then the next option would be to go to court to settle the dispute. Going to court can be a lengthy and expensive process and you will have to make your case to a judge that may not be sympathetic about pet disputes.

A judge will look out for the best interests of the animal when determining which side gets to keep it. They will consider personal and financial aspects that affect the pet when deciding. If you are having issues reaching an agreement about your pet’s custody with an ex-partner, speak with a family law attorney. A lawyer will be able to determine what are your best options and if you have a chance of winning your pet custody battle.


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