What Happens to Pets in a Separation?

For many people, dogs and other pets are much more than animals – they are part of the family. Upon divorce or separation, many people wonder what will happen to their pets. What if you can’t agree who takes the dog? Can you share ownership of your pet?

Animals Are Personal Property

Although you or your spouse might consider your beloved pet a family member, the courts have ruled that dogs and other animals are personal property – just like a house, a painting, or a bank account. As such, the animal must be divided like any other piece of personal property the couple owns.

Obviously, it’s impossible to equally divide a living thing. Furthermore, it’s usually unacceptable to the parties to sell the animal and divide the proceeds of the sale. Despite the close attachment between pet owners and their pets, family law courts will not permit the parties to apply child custody and access solutions to the question of their animals.

Instead, courts tend to look at several factors to determine which spouse has more right to the animal. The court may consider the following:

  • Which spouse bought the animal
  • Whether the animal was a gift to one spouse
  • Which spouse is responsible for the animal’s training, veterinary care, and everyday care (feeding, walking, etc.)
  • Where the animal has been living since the parties separated
  • If there are children, whether the children have a relationship with the animal
  • Which spouse pays for the animal’s expenses, including vet bills, food, toys, and other supplies

In cases where an animal is part of a farm, ranch, or breeding business, the issues are much more complex. In these situations, it’s usually necessary to have a financial expert appraise the animals to determine their value. Because these cases typically involve business interests, they are much more complicated than a case involving a family pet. If you and your spouse own an animal as part of a farm, ranch, or breeding business, call us to discuss your case.

Address Family Pets in a Separation Contract

To avoid having the court decide which person gets the dog or other pet, it’s best to include provisions regarding any animals in your separation contract. By discussing your animals with your spouse, you’re much more likely to reach a mutually satisfactory agreement that allows humans and animals alike to live peacefully.