Fighting Over Fido … Pets and Divorce

In the course of a divorce settlement, there are many formal agreements that are prepared to ensure the proper separation of assets and sharing of custody for any children involved. But what happens to the family pets during the divorce process?

Owners often develop very close, unique bonds with their pets and treat them as members of the family. However, in the eyes of the court, pets are seen as personal property – not candidates for a formal visitation or custody agreement. Due to these deep relationships with pets formed by both spouses, it is becoming more and more common to see these disputes end up in a courtroom.

Because pets are considered personal property, they can be included in a prenuptial agreement. This guarantees that the pets will go to the specified person no matter what happens in the future of the marriage. If the time to create a prenuptial agreement has passed, ownership of pets can also be considered as part of a postnuptial agreement.  

If you and your spouse cannot come to a civil agreement about who will keep the pets and you need to settle the dispute in court, here are some criteria that may be important in determining the appropriate owner.

  1. The first owner. If one spouse purchased the pet before the marriage, the pet will most likely stay with that same person.
  2. Primary caretaker. Which spouse predominantly cares for the pet? This includes, but is not limited to, buying food and necessary supplies, taking the pet to the veterinarian for regular appointments and emergencies and walking/cleaning up after the pet. Keeping track of receipts with signatures and any other official paperwork for the pet can assist a spouse in his or her pursuit to obtain sole ownership of the pet.
  3. Children’s involvement with the pet. If children are a part of the equation, consider their relationship with the pet. If the children will be spending more time with one spouse, then leaving the pet with that spouse as well may be the better option in the eyes of the court.
  4. Lifestyle better suited for a pet. If one spouse works long hours or travels a lot, then he or she may not provide the best environment for the pet. The well-being of the pet is one of the most important aspects to keep in mind when determining ownership. If one spouse will have a more conducive lifestyle for a pet after the divorce, then he or she might be the more fitting owner.

If you have any questions or need more information about determining the ownership of pets during a divorce, contact Sandy Steeves at Alperstein & Diener.