What Happens to Pets in a Divorce?


When a couple decides to split up and file for divorce, they have many decisions to make about how to divide up finances, personal property, and of course, care for any children they might have. But what about the family pets? Since so many of us are pet parents, what happens to our dogs, cats, and other animals in a divorce is a real concern.


The Animal Legal & Historical Center at Michigan State University College of Law has put together a useful guide to help people understand what happens to our companion animals in a divorce. While a child’s well-being is given top priority in any custody decision, a pet is considered to be personal property, so in the eyes of the law, who gets the family pet has been traditionally decided in pretty much the same way as who gets the television or living room couch.


Questions such as whether the pet was one person’s property before the marriage, or whether the pet is the couple’s community property are commonly considered. However, as the Center notes, some courts are beginning to recognize the need to view pets more like children and take their best interests into consideration in custody decisions. Things like shared custody, visitation, and support payments for pets are now often part of the divorce process.


What can couples do to prevent custody fights over companion animals in a divorce? Experts suggest that it’s not a bad idea for couples to come to a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement about who get the pets in the event of a divorce. If your particular divorce court is not open to hearing pet custody issues, you may have to work out your own agreement outside the court.


Check out the Animal Legal & Historical Center’s website for much more detailed information on the issue of custody of pets in a divorce HERE.



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