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Famliy Law Blog

Pets in Divorce Settlements

Published on Dec 17, 2018  |  in divorce

A divorce typically involves the division of property shared by the divorcing couple. If one spouse owned property before entering the marriage, or the spouses can provide evidence of their individual property and assets during divorce proceedings, it is possible for the spouses to retain their individual property and split community property. Custody also comes into play when a divorcing couple has children. But what happens when a couple divorces with a pet?

Although it may sound callous, the state considers pets as property in a divorce. There may be a question concerning each spouse’s share of a piece of personal property. The state generally will not develop custody arrangements for pets. In the eyes of the law, sharing custody of a pet would be no different than sharing possession of a car on a rotational basis. However, 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.

Determining Ownership of the Pet

A pet may feel like a child or a member of the family. Unfortunately, that does not mean the court will consider a pet the same as a child, nor does it mean that the court will approve a visitation schedule or co-ownership arrangement for a pet. There are several possible scenarios that can unfold when it comes to pet ownership in divorce.

One spouse could surrender his or her claim of ownership of the pet in exchange for other property. If the couple adopted or purchased the pet during the course of their marriage, then the court would consider the pet community property and each spouse would have a right to division of the property. Since division is not possible, one spouse may barter for other assets in the divorce and give up his or her right to the pet.

In other cases, neither spouse may be willing to part with the pet so the court may approve a co-ownership arrangement. This is more likely if the divorcing couple has children with a significant emotional attachment to the pet. In many cases like this, the pet simply follows the children as they visit each parent.

Settling Disputes Over Pet Ownership

Pets can become friends and even feel like part of the family. Unfortunately, some divorcing spouses may try to use this against the other spouse. For example, if one divorcing spouse knows that the other has a very strong emotional attachment to the pet in question, he or she may threaten to pursue ownership of the pet to convince the other spouse to give up other assets or property.

Some pets, such as purebred pets and show dogs, may also have significant financial value. During the divorce, one spouse may provide proof he or she invested more in the pet’s care than the other. It is likely that a very expensive pet will go to one spouse or the other in exchange for other assets of equivalent value.

A divorce can be an extremely stressful situation. Having a beloved animal companion by your side can make the process more bearable. If there are any concerns over the ownership rights of a pet, it is important for pet owners to consult carefully with their Austin divorce attorneys about how to navigate these delicate situations. Ultimately, the court will consider a pet as property. It is up to a pet owner to prove the extent of ownership of the pet to retain ownership rights.