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Putting Your Pet Through Divorce

Dolores Rice

Pets, like children, can be the innocent victims of divorce. Not only does martial strife transfer to sensitive pets but they may also find themselves suddenly living in unfamiliar surroundings. Pets are a complicated issue with divorce because it plays on the emotions of those already stressed out. For some information about how divorce views pets and what might happen in your case, read on.

Pets Are Many Things, But They Are Also Property

A beloved pet may be a treasured member of the family – as they often are. However, with a few exceptions, pets are animals according to the law and that means they are property. Some states address pets as more than property using separate "pet custody" guidelines. However, most states have no special provisions to protect pets from the ravages of divorce.

How Pet Ownership Is Decided

If the pet is treated as property, the laws of the state dictate how things should go. Community property states have the parties share all marital property 50/50 while equitable distribution states view things on a case-by-case basis with the goal of being fair to each party. In both cases, it's important to note that:

  • Pets acquired before the date of the marriage are the sole property of the owner and are not marital property. Therefore, they are not part of the marital settlement agreement.
  • Pets given as gifts to one party are also not considered marital property even if that occurred during the marriage. However, some states only provide that status if a third party (not the other spouse) gave the pet to the party.
  • The way the states treat marital property might be irrelevant if the parties can agree on a plan to share custody of the pet between themselves. If the plan is fair, as far as the judge sees it, then it will be approved and become part of the divorce.

When The Judge Decides

While things can vary slightly based on the state, judges may consider these issues:

  1. Who purchased or acquired the pet?
  2. Who took the pet to the vet, the dog park, the groomers, etc.?
  3. Who walked, fed, administered medication, and spent more time with the pet?
  4. Who can provide a better home for the pet after the divorce? Some pets need more room than others or require walking. Some pet parents have more time to devote to the pet than others.

Don't let this emotional time-bomb cause problems with your divorce. Speak to a divorce attorney in your area to find out more.


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Letting Attorneys Help You

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