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In a Divorce, Who Gets the Pets?


For many of us, our pets are our children. In cases of divorce, our dogs, cats, horses, and other pets are considered personal property. 

“In a divorce, pets must be awarded as part of the property division and therefore will usually go to one spouse or the other,” says Charla Bradshaw, a family law attorney and Denton Managing Shareholder. “However, spouses can choose to co-own the pet going forward and create a visitation schedule for the pet. We have done these orders and they actually work very well.”

Your pet’s schedule often works like a child’s visitation schedule. This also includes covering financial expenses. “When spouses co-own a pet, we must provide provisions for the expenses related to the animal,” says Bradshaw.

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Bradshaw counsels that since pets are considered personal property, there can be disputes over whether the pet is the separate property of one of the spouses or community property. Separate property can be acquired by a gift, inheritance, or if the property was owned on the date of marriage. Separate property cannot be divided by a court. Spouses may argue over whether the pet was a “gift,” or whether the spouses bought the pet together, making the pet community property subject to being awarded to one spouse or the other.

The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers conducted a poll of 1,500 members and nearly a quarter said they had noticed an increase in custody issues over pets. Courts have had to determine not only who gets the pet but whether one party has the right to see the pet after the marriage breaks up. “Identifying the best interests of the pet in a divorce case can safeguard that the pet is properly cared for after divorce,” says Bradshaw.

A divorce lawyer can provide you with the best counsel on how to arrange visitation rights so you both can spend time with your pet.

Michele C. Hollow writes the animal advocacy blog Pet News and Views. She also writes investigative animal stories for Who What Why. She is the author of The Everything Guide to Working with Animals. You can connect with her on Twitter.

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