Pet custody refers to the issues that arise when more than one person claims ownership of a dog, cat, or other small animal. These issues occasionally lead to a conflict over ownership and custody rights. Currently our legal system classifies pets as a person property just like other tangible property such as a car or furniture. Much like a rare painting or piece of jewelry, there is sentimental value attached to the pet that cannot be replaced with money or another item.

Does This Mean Pet Custody like Child Custody?

Pet custody is not like child custody. First, pets are not people. While nearly every pet owner all may treat their pets like furry children, under the law they are nearly universally recognized as personal property

Pet custody issues typically arise when a relationship ends, a couple divorces, or separates yet neither is willing to give up ownership of the pet they shared. Pet custody issues can also arise in disasters and other extraordinary circumstances. For example, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina many of the affected cities’ furry residents were rescued and relocated to shelters across the country from which they were adopted by well meaning and generous families. However, once the affected families started to recover from the disaster, they wanted their pets back.

What If I Recently Ended a Relationship and Want Custody of a Shared Pet?

Unless you can agree upon an amicable sharing agreement with your ex (albeit a spouse, wife, husband, girlfriend, boyfriend, partner), you will probably have to go to court to arrange a type of sharing schedule. Since pets are legally classified as property, they will have to be divided between you as such. Since the pet cannot be physically split, a court may order the prevailing party to "pay-off" the other party.

How is Pet Custody Established?

Pet custody can be established in court while looking at several factors: 

  1. Buyer of Pet: Since pets are classified as personal property, whoever bought the pet and is paying for the pet’s expenses would be considered the custodial owner.
  2. Taking Care of Pet: The person who takes care of the pet can be established as custodial owner. Evidence such as vet receipts or any type of proof that he or she is the main caretaker of the pet can help the court establish custody.

What Is Pet Custody Agreement?

A pet custody agreement is made when people who buy or adopt a pet enter into an agreement that details the pat care responsibilities and ownership interest. Pet custody agreements are the best way to avoid future disputes involving the custody of the pet in case of a divorce or other legal battles. A pet custody agreement can also help a couple lay out the pet’s expenses and who is obligated to pay for the pet’s expenses. 

Do I Need a Lawyer?

If you are involved in a pet custody dispute with your significant other or another person, an experienced family lawyer who has experience in pet custody disputes can help you decide the best course of action. Speaking with a lawyer will be the best way to ensure you can maintain contact with your furry friend.