Kitty Custody: Who Gets The Pets When You Divorce?

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Your pets are a part of your family. If you are a pet owner, you know that your cat or dog or bird or ferret can feel like your own child. You put money and time and effort into their care, make sure that they are comfortable and happy, and might even decide to feed them over yourself if the choice must be made. So when your relationship breaks down and you and your spouse go your separate ways, you naturally want to know who gets custody of Fido and Priscilla. Your inclination might be to believe that a judge will award custody as with children–but that’s not the case.

The divorce lawyers of Youngblood Law, PLLC, want what’s best for you and your pets, which is why we have constructed this user-friendly guide so you can understand what to expect when it comes to pets and your divorce. Read on to learn the steps you can take to make sure your furry friend will continue to be a part of your life!

Pets As Property

Texas law–and the law of many other states–does not consider pets a part of your family (as you do) but as property. A judge will not order custody for pets because property is treated a certain way according to the law. There are different types of property recognized by the court, and your pet will fall into one of these categories:

  • Community property refers to property that was acquired during the course of your marriage. This could be property that was acquired by you, your spouse, or jointly. Regardless of who acquired the property, it belongs equally to both you and your spouse.
  • Separate property refers to property that was acquired prior to your marriage and therefore belongs solely to either you or your spouse. Separate property can also include property acquired during the marriage if it was something gifted to one spouse, if a spouse was gifted an inheritance, or if the property was a settlement or award from a lawsuit.

In a divorce, separate property will generally be retained by the original owner while community property will be divided. If your pet was acquired prior to the marriage, the original owner will keep the pet. If your pet is community property, things will be a little more difficult.

There are situations in which pets that are community property could still be retained by a single owner. If you and your spouse included pet ownership in a pre- or post-nuptial agreement, that agreement will likely be upheld in court.

How Does A Judge Determine Ownership Of A Pet?

In Texas, community property is split evenly according to fairness by a judge. During stages of negotiation and meditation, you have the opportunity to work out an arrangement with your spouse regarding ownership of your pet. Perhaps you are willing to give up ownership of another important asset or pay the value of the pet in order to keep it.

If you cannot reach an agreement with your spouse, the issue will need to be decided by the court. When determining ownership of a pet considered community property, you will have to let the judge know why you are most fit to keep your pet. Some of the considerations a judge might weigh before coming to a decision might include:

  • Who acquired the pet initially and who paid for it?
  • Who has been responsible for the care and upkeep of your pet on a day-to-day basis?
  • Who took the pet to the vet? Who paid the vet bills? Who bought things like food, treats, and toys?
  • Has either spouse abused or neglected the pet?
  • Does one spouse have the time and resources to put more effort into the care of a pet while the other does not? For example, does one spouse work from home while the other is away for the majority of the day?
  • Are there children in the relationship who have bonded with the pet?

Documentation can be your best friend in these circumstances. If you are able to prove that you have been the primary caregiver for your pet and paid for most of their upkeep, you have a significant chance of being allowed to keep your pet.

Even if your pet is considered separate property, you might need to be prepared to prove that fact. Evidence like veterinary records, proof of payment, vaccination history, and any other documentation from prior to your marriage would be relevant here.

There are other circumstances in which a pet will be awarded to one spouse over another. For instance, if your pet is also your service animal, you are entitled to keep that pet. There are other circumstances where the same is true, so be sure to discuss any specific questions you have with your divorce attorney.

Can A Judge Order Pet Visitation?

A judge will generally not award visitation for a pet, though it’s a decision that divorcing spouses can come to together in the course of determining pet ownership. If you present a visitation arrangement to the judge as part of your mutual agreement, the court will generally acknowledge it.

There are other decisions a judge can and might make regarding your pet, which might incentivize you to collaborate on a decision with your ex. For example, a judge can potentially order the pet to be sold and the funds from the sale to be split between the two of you. The judge might also order that you trade another contested asset for ownership of the pet. For these reasons, it is usually best that you decide this issue with your spouse as amicably as possible.

Let Youngblood Law Help You Fight For Your Pets And Other Prized Assets

Youngblood Law, PLLC, understands that, to you, pets are your family and you want to fight for them. When you work with us to help guide you on critical divorce decisions like alimony, child custody, child support, and asset division, we will collaborate with you closely to learn your goals for divorce and offer our skill and experience reaching a settlement that will be advantageous to you. Reach out to us to schedule a free initial consultation with a member of our team and we will discuss how we can help you retain ownership of your pets and any other asset that’s important to you.

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