What Happens to Pets During Divorce?

Pets Divorce

Pets often bring joy to a family unit, providing companionship, support, and comfort. In fact, according to a research, pets prove meaningful social support for owners, providing various positive psychological and physical benefits.

When your family situation changes after a divorce, deciding what will happen to your beloved pet can be difficult. Where should it go? Can you and your ex-spouse share custody? Who will take on the financial obligations of your pet?

A divorce typically involves the division of property shared by the couple, where individual property is retained by the rightful spouse and community property is split. But you can’t split your furry friends in half, so what can you do?

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The Law on Pets in Divorce

As much as we love to think of our pets as a member of the family, they are seen as property in the eyes of the law. This means pet custody really isn’t a “thing”, and thus the state generally will not develop custody arrangement for pets. To the law, pets are just like your Kitchen Aid mixer (sorry!), so sharing custody of a pet would be no different than sharing possession of your favorite kitchen appliance.

All this said, according to a report in 2016, 75 percent of Americans in their thirties have dogs and 51 percent have cats. “Considering the number of pet owners who also happen to be married, many legal professionals and courts are starting to consider pets more like children and less like property,” says Abraham Kant, a divorce attorney in Austin.

In the state of California, Assembly Bill 2274 was passed on January 1st of this year, noting the well-being of a pet will get more consideration during divorce proceedings. Alaska and Illinois have thus adopted similar laws.

What Will Happen to My Pet?

 There are various possible scenarios that can occur when it comes to pet ownership in a divorce proceeding.

In one situation, a spouse could surrender his or her claim of pet ownership in exchange for other property. If the pet was adopted or purchased during the union, the court considers your furry friend to be community property and each spouse has the right to division of the property. Since a pet cannot be split, other assets can be bartered in exchange for sole pet ownership.

In another, neither spouse will be willing to give ownership of the pet, and thus the court may approve a co-ownership agreement. This is often granted if the divorcing couple has children with a strong bond to the pet. In these situations, the pet will follow the children as they visit each parent.

Pet Disputes and Unique Situations

 Unfortunately disputes regarding property is common in divorce. In some cases, a divorcing spouse may exploit the other’s love and connection with the pet to his or her advantage. For example, a divorcing spouse my threaten to pursue ownership of the pet to convince the other spouse to give up certain assets or property.

Show dogs and purebred pets also bring forth unique challenges as they have significant financial value. If one spouse shows proof he or she invested more in the pet’s car than then the other, it is likely the expensive pet will go to that spouse in exchange for assets of equal value.

Moving Forward With or Without Your Pet

Pets can provide much needed support and comfort during the difficult transition of divorce; pet ownership has a very positive effect on owners, helping with a greater sense of control, self-esteem, and less depressed and lonely. This being said, it is also important to consider what is best for your pet during a divorce, ensuring it is well taken care of, whatever the outcome may be. When it comes to finding a solution for all involved in the divorce, including your pet, consider talking with a qualified divorce lawyer to learn about your options.


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What Happens to Pets During Divorce?
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