How to decide who gets the pet in a divorce

If you are considering divorce and you share a pet with your spouse, you may be concerned about who will get the pet when you separate. In the vast majority of cases, the pet will be treated as property by the court. A skilled divorce attorney can help you to understand what your rights to your pet may be. This is also an issue that can be covered in a pre-marital agreement.

Where Will My Pet Live After My Divorce?

While we may consider them family members, in a divorce a pet is considered property. This “property”, e.g., Fido, is usually awarded to one spouse, although this is changing with some judges now awarding shared custody of pets.

Despite the emotional connection many people have with their pets, courts in most jurisdictions will view pets the same way they view other property, like furniture or jewelry. If one person brought the pet into the marriage, then they will likely be awarded the pet during the divorce. However, there are many variables, such as who takes care of the pet, that the court may take into account. The first question that the court will address is whether the pet is separate or marital property. Typically, this issue will turn on whether the pet was owned by one of the parties before the marriage. However, like other property, there is no reason to believe that a pet cannot become marital property due to commingling.

Commingling is when something that is originally separate property becomes marital property. An asset that one person inherited during the marriage or brought into the marriage at the outset will be separate property unless it is mixed in with marital assets. One way for a pet to become marital property for marital funds to be used to take care of the pet. This includes paying vet bills, buying food, and providing other things that the pet needs with marital assets. The court will look at all of the circumstances, but the more that marital funds are used to take care of the pet, the more likely it is that the court will see the pet as marital property.

One of the more persuasive factors a court will consider in determining where a pet should live after its owners divorce may be who has custody of any children of the marriage. While the courts typically treat pets as property, they are also concerned with the best interests of the children, and may determine that the pet should stay with the children.

“Visitation” of Pets

Though it is relatively rare, in some circumstances the court may grant visitation of a pet to one of the parties after they divorce. In other words, one person will be given ownership of the pet, but their ex-spouse will be allowed to visit it at certain times. Keep in mind that couples can generally agree to any arrangement between themselves that they see fit. However, the amount of judicial time and resources that the judge will give to these kinds of topics will vary depending on the judge and jurisdiction.

Some states have developed laws concerning custody of pets. Consult an attorney in your state for more information.

Best Interests of the Pet

It is becoming more common for judges to take “the best interests of the pet” into account. Some jurisdictions are passing laws that include this consideration when determining who the pet should live with after a divorce. However, this is still relatively rare. It is more common for judges to do an informal “best interests of the pet” analysis that may take into account who has a yard or is in a better position to care for the pet.

As all pet owners know, pets become part of your family. Often couples treat their pets like children, and the prospect of never seeing your beloved pet again can just as bad as losing custody of a child.

Research suggest that about 50% of American marriages end in divorce and that 62% of American households include at least one pet . Deciding what happens to the pet is an important factor that divorcing parties must consider.

Unfortunately, divorce courts generally treat pets as property and it is often up to the judge to decide who entitled to said property.

Many couples think they can share custody of a pet, but often it’s extremely impractical. Though our pets feel like children, a joint custody arrangement simply won’t work the same way and typically fail.

Whose pet is it?

If a spouse owned a pet before the marriage, that spouse would be entitled to keeping the pet.

But if the pet became part of the family during the marriage, thing get a bit trickier.

How to decide who gets the pet in a divorce

Do Your Kids Love The Pet?

If you have kids and they love the pet, their feelings take priority. The divorce is already difficult for them, so taking away their pet if you don’t have to, would be unfair.

If the pet is important to the children, it should live wherever they live.

While it may be impractical for couples without children to share custody of a pet, if children are involved and are going between households, it could be a good idea for the pet to go with them.

I’ve seen this scenario work, depending on the personality and needs of the pet. Though you will have to make decisions such as who pays vet bills and coordinate on consistent care for the animal.

Where do you live?

Yes, this can be an important factor. Some pets don’t do well with changes in their surroundings. Remember, these times are stressful for all involved, so if you’re the one moving out — and you know Fluffy becomes a quivering mess of nerves when you change the drapes — then leaving the pet behind, though difficult, is likely the best recourse.

What about your work schedule?

Caring for a pet jointly can be much easier than doing it alone, especially if you work long hours. Take an honest look at your schedule and determine if you will really be able to give the pet the care and attention it needs.

Keep in mind that the expense of divorce may require you to work more than you did while you were married.

Can you afford it?

The cost of caring for a pet can be very expensive. From vet visits, medicine, to food and toys, costs can add up. An emergency vet visit can cost hundreds of dollars.

You will most likely start this new chapter in a worse financial position than when you started. You have to make sure these expenses will fit in your budget before you decide to take on the pet.

Who takes care of the pet’s daily needs?

Be honest about who takes care of the animal’s basic daily needs such as feeding, walks, grooming and vet visit. If you don’t usually take care of these things you may find it to be overwhelming to suddenly have to do it on your own.

Think about which of you are best at taking care of these basic needs.

What’s best for the pet?

The most important question to consider is what is best for the pet. Pets need consistency. If one party will move around a lot or have a disrupted routine, they may not be the best owner of the pet. Losing a “member of the pack” will be stressful enough.

Even though you both love it equally, you have to make the decision that allows your pet to live the most comfortable life.

For more information on how to keep your pet in divorce schedule your divorce strategy session today.

By Maria Moya for

You might think of your dog as your fur child, but the law would not agree.

“In the eyes of the law, they are really no different than the silverware, the cars, the home,” says Joyce Tischler, director of litigation for the Animal Legal Defense Fund.

But in more and more American homes, splitting the pets could get pretty contentious.

Consider the numbers. Sixty-three percent — 71.1 million — of U.S. households own pets, according to the latest National Pet Owners Survey. The bulk of those animals are dogs — about 44 million. Americans are expected to spend about $41 billion on their pets this year, a $24 billion increase since 1994, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association.

Then throw in lifestyle and societal changes: more couples have fewer children than a generation or two ago and view their pets as their kids or companions, owners pay $2,000 for an orthopedist to reconstruct a dog’s knee; designers such as Isaac Mizrahi create pink trench coats and white tulle bridal dresses for the fashion-conscious canine whose owner shops at Target, and high-end pet stores sell rhinestone-studded dog collars, peanut butter biscotti instead of run-of-the-mill dog treats, and strollers for the walking-averse pampered pooch.

“When you put all of that together, it’s no wonder that we’re beginning to see an increasing number of custody battles involving companion animals,” Tischler says.

The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers conducted a poll of 1,500 members and nearly a quarter said they had noticed an increase in custody issues of pets. Judges have had to determine not only who gets the dog but whether one party has the right even to see the dog after the marriage breaks up.


In 1995, Florida’s First District Court of Appeals overturned a trial court’s decision granting Kathryn Bennett visits with her family’s dog Roddy. The dog was a pre-marital “asset” belonging to her ex-husband, Ronald Greg Bennett, who had been awarded custody, while his ex-wife was given visits with Roddy every other weekend and every other Christmas. Ms. Bennett returned to court contending that her ex-husband wasn’t complying with the visitation the court had ordered.

But instead of enforcing her rights as a dog parent, the appeals court denied that they existed. “As personal property, dogs must be awarded pursuant to dictates of equitable distribution statute,” the appeals court decision reads.

The ruling goes on to say that “Determinations as to custody and visitation lead to continuing enforcement and supervision problems. . Our courts are overwhelmed with the supervision of custody, visitation, and support matters related to the . protection of our children. We cannot undertake the same responsibility as to animals.”

Tischler says the Animal Legal Defense Fund regularly submits friend-of-the-court briefs in divorce cases. The document does not take sides but says there’s a third party involved in the proceedings: the animal.

“We ask the court to consider the best interest of the animal rather than treating the animal as if he or she were a toaster,” she says.

Tichler maintains that, when a judge decides who should get the dog or cat, such factors as who spends more time with the pet, who feeds it and takes it to the veterinarian and who brought it into the relationship in the first place should be considered.


Divorcing couples who fight over their pets may not be dealing with an underlying issue. An ex who takes his or her former spouse to court repeatedly over visiting Fluffy or paying veterinary bills probably is not as concerned about the dog as he or she is about controlling an ex-wife or ex-husband.

“Sometimes, in a divorce case, the pet may become a symbol of power and control and may be seen as the one entity that still loves me unconditionally,” says Nancy Peterson, an issues specialist with the Humane Society of the United States.

The legal battles involving pets can be a large emotional investment with an uncertain outcome that can run into the tens of thousands of dollars. Divorce also takes a toll on the pet. A once-energetic dog may become depressed, Peterson says. He may sleep more, eat less and lose interest in activities such as walking and playing with his owner. He may begin having accidents in the house or grooming himself excessively.

Unsure what to do with your pet now that divorce is on the horizon? This post explains what will happen, and how you can avoid a dispute.

How to decide who gets the pet in a divorce

Pets are an amazing addition to any family, but what happens if the family home begins to disintegrate? Seeking family law advice is the best place to start with any divorce, as they can help you to make plans for kids, finances, and property. They can also help you to make a plan for your pets.

According to the Blue Cross, dogs and cats are the most fought after pets during a divorce, with 59 percent going to the wife or girlfriend and 29 percent going to the men. In other cases, where a decision can’t be made, 15 percent go to a friend, 12 percent to family, a six percent to charities.

Because of the emotion this decision can invoke, making a plan before a divorce comes into the picture might be the best port of call. This article will explain this further…

What are pets defined as during a divorce?

Although pets become an integral part of the family, unlike your children they aren’t really regarded with the same love and care in the legal system. In fact, pets are regarded as “chattel”, otherwise known as property. This puts them in the same ballpark as things like cars and furniture.

How are pets treated under the law?

In your home, your pet will likely be a much-loved member of the family. That said, in the court of divorce law, this is unlikely to matter.

Because pets are seen as property, transferring ownership is possible in the courts, just like you would with a house or car. What’s more, the court can also make a decision about financial arrangements based on the decisions surrounding the pet. For example, the person who gets the pet might require a financial reward for the upkeep.

When a judge is making a decision about who should take ownership of the pet, child and financial arrangements will be more pressing. So, they’ll likely take the practicalities into consideration, rather than emotions. With this in mind, they’ll consider the following:

  • Whose money was used to purchase the pet or the adoption fee?
  • Whose name is on the majority of vet bills?
  • Who is registered with the vet?
  • Who the key provider is in the house?
  • The name on the tags and microchips.

Ultimately, whoever is seen to “rightfully own” the pet will be responsible for their care.

How to avoid pet disputes during a divorce

The best thing to do, in order to avoid any nasty disputes about pet ownership, is to plan ahead for any eventuality. Although it might seem crass to plan for a divorce or breakup, as your relationship will feel solid now, things change.

How to decide who gets the pet in a divorce

You can’t predict what the future will hold, so covering your back now is a good idea. Some ideas for doing this include:

Have a Pet Prenup

Drawing up a prenup is advised for any marriage. Within this prenup, you should have a section considering the welfare and plans for your pets if you end your marriage. Although you can verbally agree to things, there’s much more security in putting it in writing.

The Blue Cross’s “Pet Nup” can be downloaded from their website, which allows you both to set a plan for the rights of ownership for your furry friends before the tables turn. Some of the points you should consider when filling this out include:

  • Does the pet favour one person over the other?
  • Is the pet more bonded with one person over the other?
  • Who works longer hours?
  • Who travels more often?
  • Who had the pet first?

If you have more than pet, you’ll be more inclined to split them up so you can both benefit from enjoying their company. However, you also need to consider how this will affect your pets too. If they get on well with one another, how will they cope being split up?

Ultimately, you should be considering your pet’s wellbeing first. If they’re more in tune with one member of the couple than the other, and that person has more time to spend with them, then you should take this into consideration.

Enter into a Cohabitation Agreement

Similarly, if you’re not married but simply live together, you should consider drawing up a cohabitation agreement. This can set out a similar arrangement to the above, bearing in mind your pet’s welfare at all times.

Consider Joint Custody

Although it may be trickier with cats, who can be quite territorial, other pets might work well on a joint custody basis. Especially with dogs, who enjoy going from place to place, this could be a very feasible option for you both.

Ultimately, animals are creatures of habit and routine. If you start building up a new, set routine of visits to one another’s homes, they’ll soon get used to it, and it’ll be like normal again.

It really depends on the animals’ temperament, and the type of animal too. You just need to decide what works best for your pet, and how much individual time you can both give to your furry friend.

This might even help you to remain friends, as a couple, if you both have a vested interest in a living being.

How to decide who gets the pet in a divorce

Pets are a very important element of the divorce

Although it might seem very practical in the courts, there’s no doubt that choosing who gets the pet will be an emotional rollercoaster for you both.

Hopefully, this article has provided you with the information you need to decide what to do. It may have even spurred you to put together a Pet Nup, to save any trouble later on down the line.

I wish you luck in the future of your divorce! Be sure to leave your experiences with pets and divorce in the comments down below.

Who gets the pets? Here’s what to consider when faced with this difficult decision.

By Wendi Schuller Updated: January 17, 2018 Categories: Coping with Divorce

How to decide who gets the pet in a divorce

A tricky part of divorce can be who gets the cat or dog. This is not about a race horse whose value may be counted as an asset. Millions of dollars in assets have been divided, yet couples nearly came to blows over the pets, according to my divorce attorney. She stated this emotional issue has slowed down divorce proceedings in some of her cases. Couples in hectic careers may have put off having children or decided not to have any at all. Particularly in these instances, animals can have a more central role in the couple’s lives.

Five Questions to Help you Decide Who Gets the Pets in a Divorce:

  1. Is one of you going to stay in the family house that has the dog run or fenced back yard and the other is moving to a small apartment?
  2. Does your dog or cat have animal buddies in the neighborhood?
  3. Is one spouse moving abroad after the divorce? Quarantine and local regulations may make it challenging to bring family pets.
  4. Who is the primary caretaker? Who takes the pets to the vet, buys food and supplies, walks the dogs or cleans the kitty litter box, and generally spends the most time with your pets?
  5. Can you put your own feelings aside and think about what is really in your pet’s best interest? Try to look at this situation from the pet’s point of view.

What the Law Says about Who Gets the Pets

If you are deadlocked about who gets the pets, you may have to go to court and ask a judge to decide. In most places, the law treats pets as personal possessions – like a chair or a TV – and pets are considered the separate property of the person who owned them before marriage. So generally speaking, if one spouse owned the pet before the marriage, that pet will go to them in a divorce.

However, the court may also look at lifestyles in determining pet “custody”. When one spouse travels nearly half of the month for a job or has very long commutes, and the other one works from or close to home, then this could be a factor for who gets the dog.

If one parent is getting physical custody of the little humans, then the pets may be awarded to them as well.

Creative Solutions to the Problem of Who Gets the Pets in a Divorce

Flexibility and creativity are useful tools for working out this dilemma. One woman got the two dogs after a breakup. She travels a lot for work and requires a pet sitter. Guess who that is – yes, it is her ex. He is happy seeing the dogs periodically and she goes away reassured that her canine kids will get loving care. Some former couples decide that the children and the dog are a unit and they go together back and forth between parental homes. The children enjoy having the dog go with them, and neither parent has to terminate their relationship with the furry family member.

Look at your motivation for wanting the pet. Some people may fight for custody more out of retaliation than affection. If you sense that your spouse is doing this, perhaps give a little more and let them have an extra painting or some other asset in exchange for the pet. If you offer something your ex wants as much as you want the pet, that could end the battle in a win-win.

If you and your ex-spouse are not able to come to an agreement, consider hiring a mediator for this aspect of your divorce. They may help you both come up with an arrangement that is not all-or-nothing in terms of custody. My husband and I had to have a custody evaluator decide what was best for our children. Our attorneys had us sign an agreement to abide by whatever her custody decision would be. Something along these lines could be done for pet custody when there is a battle over them.

If You Don’t Get the Pet…

Whoever gives up the pet in divorce will have a gaping hole in their hearts and lives. They will go through the grief process for this traumatic loss. If this is you, give yourself time to mourn and, if feeling stuck, consider talking to a divorce or life coach. Nurture yourself and vent to friends. Get out of the house to do some pleasurable pursuits, even if just walking around a park and soaking up the benefits of being in nature.

Give yourself some time to get over this loss before adopting another pet. Shelters and rescue groups are looking for kind-hearted people to provide temporary foster homes for animals waiting to be adopted. Volunteering with animal non-profits is another way to get your animal fix. One of my friends volunteers at the London Zoo, and I feed and take care of kitties weekly for a cat rescue group. Whether you lose a beloved animal friend through divorce or death, the pain does diminish in time.

How to decide who gets the pet in a divorce

Some divorcing couples treasure their pets as if they are children. That’s why pet custody laws are becoming an increasingly important point of contention during divorces.

Many couples (and their children) might wonder: Who gets ownership of the family pet after a divorce? How does a court determine who gets custody of the dog in divorce?

The Issue: Pets Are Legally "Personal Property"

Pets are generally treated as personal property when a couple divorces. This is hard for many people who see a pet as part of the family. In many states, deciding who gets custody of Fido is the same as deciding who gets custody of the table lamp.

That’s why some courts are wary of deciding issues such as custody and visitation rights when it comes to a pet. It’s not like individuals are usually granted visitation rights to go see their favorite couch every week.

The issue is especially hard if courts refuse to get involved. Pet custody laws may become uniform at some point. But for now, what happens to your pet after a divorce is unfortunately unclear. Don’t let a pet custody battle draw out your divorce and make an already bad situation worse.

Changing Laws: Pets as More Than "Personal Property"

The good news is that some states are changing the way that they view pet custody laws. Some courts will treat pets more like a child custody case.

Judges in these courts will factor in the well-being and best interest of the pet. Then they will decide who will get custody and visitation rights.

Who Gets Custody of the Dog in Divorce Proceedings?

Pet custody depends on your state’s laws. To date, only a few states have ruled on pet custody cases:

    (Amendment HB 147 – "best interests of the pet" system) (Public Act 100-0422 – only awards ownership of the pet, not custody or visitation) (Family Code Section 2605 – courts can award full or joint ownership)

You can also choose to add pets to a prenup agreement where you determine the custody of pets before you get married.

How to Get Custody of a Dog: How Judges Determine Custody Agreements for Dog Owners

Typically, who gets custody depends on what the courts in your jurisdiction (the location where you are going through your divorce) ruled in previous cases. In general, a pet custody dispute will review these factors:

  • Who paid for the dog (and is there evidence of payment)?
  • Who pays for the day-to-day care of the pet, such as food, doggy daycare, vet bills, or other services?
  • Who spends time with the dog?
  • Is there a history of animal abuse?
  • Will seeing the pet less affect the human children in your custody?
  • What are the best interests of the animal (does the dog prefer the company of one owner more than the other)?

Note: Your dog could be more than a pet. If it is an emotional support animal or service animal, it is not seen as a family pet and cannot be separated from you. Talking to a doctor and certifying your dog as your emotional support animal is a tactic that some owners may take. You can learn more at the Animal Legal Defense Fund website.

To win a pet custody fight, the most important thing you will need to show is that you spent the most on your pet. Gather any evidence you have of bills you have paid, time spent with your pet, and other factors that show you have put the most money and time into your pet and their well-being.

Can You Get Joint Custody for a Pet?

Not legally, unless you live in Alaska, Illinois, or California. Some courts will take the case and make a decision. However, the decision is usually one person having full ownership or "custody." Few judges will rule on a visitation arrangement.

This can be intimidating because once the judge makes a decision, that decision will be legal. You can submit an appeal on the case if you wanted joint custody but do not win the case.

Finding an amicable joint custody arrangement is best done outside of court or through mediation. You will likely have to live with the judge’s decision once you bring the case to court.

New laws are changing how the courts see dogs. Still, until these laws really change, most judges will award just one person with full ownership.

Do I Have Any Options to Legally Get My Dog Back?

If your state left your pet to your ex, you are probably wondering how to get custody of your dog back. The law isn’t uniform. Potential joint pet owners may need to consider negotiating among themselves.

Using mediation is a way to find a fair resolution on who gets a pet when a relationship ends. A mediator can help you find a fair visitation schedule instead of taking the issue with you to divorce court.

Can I Sue for Pet Ownership?

Yes, you can sue anyone for just about anything in civil or small claims court. But you need to ask yourself if it is worth your time and money if your chances of winning are not good.

For most pet owners, it is worth any money to get their beloved pet back. The process will involve gathering evidence and witnesses, and presenting everything clearly in front of a judge. An attorney will do this for you if you hire one, and odds are you will have a stronger case if an attorney does professional work.

How Will an Attorney Actually Help Me?

If you are already using a divorce attorney, you can add pet ownership to the docket of other issues they will help you with.

Since most states view pets as marital property, it can be factored into the rest of your divorce agreement. You might offer something your ex wants in return for keeping your pet, and an attorney can help you draft up that agreement.

Your attorney will examine all sides of the property division and tell you what the likely outcome is. They can also offer insight into how your ex and their attorney might negotiate, so you can plan proactively.

If your pet’s ownership goes to court, you have a better chance of winning with professionally gathered and presented evidence. Your attorney will also coach you on your personal testimony, and they should have a Plan A, B, and C to try and get your pet back.

How to decide who gets the pet in a divorce

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.

Did you know you can have a pet custody agreement that states where your pet will live, should you and your partner split up? Read on to learn how a pet custody agreement can help you keep your pet after divorce or if the relationship ends.

by Ronna L. DeLoe, Esq.
updated July 13, 2021 · 4 min read

Splitting up with your partner, spouse, or even a roommate is difficult enough without the added stress of determining who keeps the pet you both bought together. Divorce cases increasingly include fighting over the family dog and other pets. Still, you can help keep pet custody out of a divorce or a split, as there are ways to protect who gets the animal you both own.

How to decide who gets the pet in a divorce

Pet custody agreements can resolve this issue, much like prenuptial agreements. The trick is to have the pet custody agreement in place before you and your partner go your separate ways, so you’re not fighting over your pet while emotions are running high.

Pet Custody Laws

Most states don’t view your pet as a family member, even though you do. Pets are generally considered by law as personal property, much like your knickknacks and appliances. The good news is that the law is changing, just not at a rapid pace. As of 2019, two states—Alaska and Illinois—consider pets as more than personal property. This means that judges in those states consider pet custody almost the same way they consider child custody, focusing on the pet’s best interests to help decide where it should live.

A California law went into effect in 2019 that states that judges “may” consider the animal’s best interests. Other states, such as New York, have had a few rogue judges who applied the best interests test, but a pet’s best interests rule hasn’t been adopted by New York. As in the past, many judges in states other than Alaska, Illinois, and California refuse to hear about your dog, which is the pet that most couples fight over. It’s likely that several other states will become best interests states in the next decade. In the meantime, protecting your animal rights requires vigilance on your part.

How to Get Pet Custody

You can decide custody of your pet in advance by having a pet custody agreement in place. If you have such an agreement, it’s likely that a court will enforce it unless it’s in a state with pet custody laws, where the judge will consider the pet’s best interests.

In states where judges view your pet as personal property and you don’t have a pet custody agreement, you’ll have to prove why you’re entitled to it instead of your partner. Even though your state may view animals as personal property, spouses still have to show:

  • Which partner or spouse adopted or purchased the pet, with receipts
  • Whether you or your partner got the pet before marriage or before the partnership began
  • Whether there are children who are attached to the pet, and where the children will be living
  • Who walks and feeds the pet
  • Who takes the pet to the veterinarian
  • Who pays the pet’s bills, including the vet, food, and medicine
  • Which partner has room for the pet in their home or apartment
  • Which partner has a backyard for a dog
  • Whether one partner is moving to an apartment that doesn’t allow your type of pet
  • Whether spouses have work schedules that don’t permit them to spend much time with the pet
  • Which partner has bonded with the pet, or is the one the pet follows around the house
  • Whether either partner has exhibited animal cruelty

How to Keep Pet Custody Out of Court

One way to keep pet custody out of court is to have a fair custody agreement that provides either for joint custody of the pet or for sole custody with a visitation schedule for the other partner. Joint custody, though, is usually not the best thing for your pet. Pets, like children, are often traumatized in divorce or when partners split up. A pet custody arrangement where the pet goes back and forth between houses—whether the house is around the corner or across the country—is not in the pet’s best interests. In such a case, joint custody won’t work well for anyone, especially for the pet.

Another way to resolve your pet custody issue is to use mediation or arbitration instead of using the courts. In mediation, couples can work to resolve their pet arrangement amicably.

How to Protect Your Pet Custody Rights

If your spouse bought the pet before you got married, you’ll have difficulty getting custody of the pet because it’s not considered marital property but will be your spouse’s separate property. Separate property belongs to the spouse who acquired it before marriage.

Still, you may end up getting the pet in certain circumstances. For example, if you take care of the pet most of the time, you could get the pet even if your spouse pays most of the vet bills. If you’re getting custody of the children, in a pet’s best interests state, a judge will want to keep the pet with them; in other states, custody could be split, with the children going to one parent and the animal going to the other.

As pet custody is an ever-evolving area of law, consider getting a family attorney to help you keep your pet. You might be able to keep the pet if you have photos of you and your pet sharing a bonding moment, if you have witnesses testify that you’re the primary caretaker, or if you have receipts showing you paid for most of the pet care. If you have a pet and have an intact marriage or partnership, now is the time to put a pet custody agreement in place so you’re protected if you and your partner later decide to go your separate ways.