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What Happens to Pets in a Divorce?

When people think about hard issues in a divorce, the one that comes to mind most often is custody. But, for some people, “custody” might refer to family members who are smaller, fuzzier, and walk on four legs: pets.

For most people, pets are beloved members of the family. So, what happens to your pet during a divorce? Does the law treat Fido and Fluffy the same as a piece of furniture, or will you need a puppy parenting plan? The answer to that question depends largely on the facts, the judge, and how creative the parties can be.

Strictly speaking, the law looks at pets as property. So, if you have an AKC registered show dog or run a breeding business, there will be questions of monetary value and compensation.

Much more common, though, are cases where the puppy was adopted from the animal shelter by a young couple for their kids, or one of the spouses had a cat before the marriage. Cases like these are usually easy. If the pet belongs to the kids, the pet will probably follow the kids. Likewise, if someone came into the marriage with a pet, they’re going to keep their pet.

But what about the dog that a couple adopted together during the marriage? What happens to him?

Divorcing couples can agree to almost anything. If they want to have a schedule of who gets the dog when, they can agree to that. If the couple cannot agree and a judge must decide, he/she will listen to testimony about who took care of the pet, where each person plans on living after the divorce, and work schedules to try to make the best decision. It’s unlikely that a judge will award a dog to someone who plans to move into a tiny apartment that does not allow pets, or to someone who works 80 hours a week.

Unfortunately, there are no hard and fast rules about what judges can or should consider when awarding pets to people. The decision is based on common sense and the predisposition of the judge. Judges are human, they have patterns, habits, and certain life experiences that a lawyer who regularly practices in their court will know. Some judges will find a fight over a pet silly, others have “fur children” and will be able to empathize with the parties. This is why the first decision in a divorce (which lawyer to hire) is the most important.

Call (865) 685-4780 to schedule a case assessment with a Held Law Firm attorney.