How to Decide Who Gets Custody of the Family Pet After a Divorce

List: Posted: 05/24/11

In most parts of the U.S., a pet is regarded as a piece of property or livestock, rather than a family member.  In divorce cases, custody of the pet will generally be awarded to the title and registration holder. 


However, there is a growing movement among judges to treat the pet as a family member, but it is still not majority practice.  If you and your spouse have concerns about the welfare of your pet, it is in your best interest to form an agreement about its custody among yourselves to facilitate an amicable divorce and the pet's well-being.

If the pet is a family companion, it is best to separate it from the fewest family members possible so that it does not become isolated and emotionally distressed.  If your child has a strong bond with your pet and has raised it from a puppy or kitten, it is usually best to give the animal to whoever has custody of the child to prevent further distress to both parties. 


In the case that you own two pets who have a loving bond, it may be tempting for each side to take a pet each, but this may be a selfish decision to make on your behalf, by depriving your pet of it's mate.  If, on the other hand, the divorce was amicable and both sides will still be getting together on a regular basis, this might be the best option, as the two pets will still be able to see each other and will not feel the loss of their companionship so keenly.


It's also important to be sure that whoever lives with it will be able to provide a large enough, pet-safe household, or an enclosed yard for outdoor pets.  You might also want to discuss some kind of visitation agreement with your ex.  Some partners may try to take the family pet to 'get back at' their partner, and then realize when they get it home that they have no room, ability or desire to take care of it.  Such situations concerning bad living conditions should be presented to the court, along with any photographic or video evidence of neglect, poor housing, abandonment or ill treatment.

On the other hand, if you show the animal at competitions, collect stud fees, or otherwise use your pet as a source of income, you might want to regard your pet as a business asset.  If you are the title holder, you should bring documentation showing that the animal is necessary for your business to court.  High-quality breeding or show animals have a high monetary value, and you can expect to have to fight for them if you have joint ownership with your partner.

Divorce & Family Law Attorneys

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        The material in this article is for informational purposes only. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of See Additional Information

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