When a marriage ends, the divorcing parties are tasked with dividing up all the marital property between them. Pets are currently considered property from a legal perspective. Many people feel as though pets are part of their family, but divorce laws do not reflect this belief yet. In the process of dividing marital property, a court will make a determination on who will own the pet if the two divorcing parties cannot come to an agreement.

How Does the Court Divide Up Marital Property?

How courts divide up property varies based on which state you live in. Most states follow equitable distribution principles, in which courts pay attention to who earned, purchased, or is listed as owner on pieces of marital property.

Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin are known as community property states. Divorce courts in these states view almost everything that was acquired during the marriage as marital property, regardless of who acquired the property and whose name is listed as owner on the property.

Will the Court Consider Pet and Human Relationships?

Child custody laws vary by state as well. Custody and visitation issues are worked out in divorce proceedings that are separate from property distribution issues. Children are not considered personal property. However, community property courts may take into consideration factors that might look similar to child custody when distributing pets:

  • As people have become more attached to their pets, courts may take a number of considerations into account when deciding which party should be awarded the pet.
  • Who purchased or adopted the pet
  • Who tended to the animals daily needs for food, exercise, grooming, vaccinations, and vet visits
  • In the case of social animals such as dogs, who took the dog for walks and play dates with other dogs or other people
  • Who obtained and updated licenses
  • Who complied with leash laws and other local pet ordinances

The court may also take into account which party took custody of the pet, and the quality of care given to the pet, during the separation period. Pets do best with consistent schedules. During stressful times, such as when a divorce is pending, the party that can provide the best quality of care to the pet can present evidence of that care during property distribution proceedings.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

Everyone who is getting divorced, or considering divorce, should talk to a family lawyer. The separation and property distribution process is different in every state, and with your pet at stake, it is important to have all your personal interests represented by a knowledgeable and experienced attorney.