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How Pet Custody Is Determined When You File for Divorce

Jeff Cole
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Partner at Zimmer, Duncan & Cole

One of the hardest decisions in your divorce after deciding on the custody of your children and parenting time could be determining who gets the family pet. Even in uncontested divorces where the parties agree on pretty much everything, the issue of a beloved dog or cat can turn negotiations ugly. This is not surprising since pets often are treated like family members, and it can be painful to think of not living with a pet when splitting up. Knowing how the court could treat this issue could help you decide how to handle it in your divorce.

How Is Pet Custody Decided?

Courts generally treat pets like property in a divorce, and a pet will be awarded to one of the spouses as part of the property settlement. While some judges will allow testimony about pet custody and could award the noncustodial spouse visitation rights, many do not want to spend much time on this issue and will award the beloved pet to one party. If the judge does take time to consider the issue, he may consider these factors:

  • Who took care of the pet, walked it, groomed it, and took it to the vet the most
  • Who spent the most time with the pet
  • Who will have the best living arrangement for the pet
  • Whether there are children and if so, chances are that the family pet will be awarded to the custodial parent

Create Your Own Pet Custody and Visitation Plan

Given the uncertainty of how a judge will decide who gets your pet and even how much time he will spend making this important decision, it really is best if your spouse and you work out your own agreement. Your plan can include an agreement as to how much time each of you keeps your pet and how to split the financial cost of taking care of him. You should keep in mind your pet’s best interests in creating your plan and consider one that does not unnecessarily leave your pet home alone for long periods of time. If your spouse and you cannot come to an agreement, a mediator could help you work out your differences. Whatever agreement you reach should be put in writing.

Like many issues in your divorce, who gets your beloved pet can be an emotional one. A divorce attorney can advise you how judges where you would be filing for divorce handle this sensitive issue. Call our firm at 888-733-2992 to schedule a free consultation with our experienced divorce attorneys and get answers to your questions about your pet and other issues in your divorce.


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