How To Get Custody of the Dog

What happens to Rover in a divorce?

By Tim Kelly, J.D. | Last updated on January 4, 2023

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Often when couples come together in a committed relationship or marriage, a family pet isn’t far behind. However, who gets custody of the bet when the relationship ends? Pet custody is a tricky area of family law because many people assume it works similarly to child custody. However, this tends not to be the case. That’s because courts generally look at our beloved pets not as children but as personal property. This article serves as an introduction to pet custody issues in divorce proceeds. Who do the courts view as the rightful pet owner in divorce cases under the eyes of the law? Keep reading to find out.

What Determines Custody of a Pet?

Like most issues in the legal sphere, the answer to this question depends on the jurisdiction. However, most states do not view your pet as a family member akin to a child. Instead, courts in these states look at your pet as personal property, similar to a car or furniture. In these states, courts will look at who purchased the pet and is their legal owner. Still, some states are taking steps to more meaningfully acknowledge the role that pets play in the lives of their owners. For example, both Alaska and Illinois have passed measures that classify pets as more than just personal property. Additionally, California judges overseeing pet custody agreements may now weigh the best interests of the pet when making a final ruling. This law, in particular, mirrors child custody laws, which are often geared toward the best interests of the child.

How To Keep Custody of Your Pet

Divorce proceedings are typically a long and winding road filled with uncertainty and emotion. Before spending significant costs on legal fees, consider ways to resolve the matter amicably. You’ll probably still need a lawyer to assist in the details, but an amicable split is preferable to a hostile one. Here are some potential avenues that you can take before, during, and after marriage to keep custody of your pet:
  • Prenuptial or postnuptial pet custody agreement: Prenuptial agreements can be a touchy subject for couples. But agreeing on the difficult things early on can avoid costly legal fees and bitter arguing later on. Negotiating a prenuptial or postnuptial custody agreement for your pet can provide peace of mind in a relationship and take uncertainty off your plate.
  • Alternative dispute resolution (ADR): This method is often the most amicable way to resolve a pet custody dispute during a divorce because it involves the parties coming together to mediate or arbitrate their differences. With the court system so clogged, ADR is often a more sensible and cohesive means of solving the dispute than divorce court.
  • Divorce court: When a compromise can’t be reached, and ADR is not an option, the decision could be left to a divorce court judge. When assessing who keeps the pet, a judge will determine if the pet is community property, i.e., was the pet purchased before or during the marriage? In most states, if the pet was purchased before the marriage, it is deemed separate property, and the original owner of the pet will retain ownership upon divorce.
As you’ve no doubt realized by now, the answer to this question depends mainly on the law in the jurisdiction where you and your beloved pet reside. For this reason, it is best to seek out the advice of an experienced attorney who can guide you on the law in your area.

Questions to Ask a Divorce Attorney

Speaking to a divorce lawyer for the first time can often be intimidating, especially because family law tends to dredge up emotions. Before sitting down with an attorney, consider which questions you’d like to ask them and what answers your ideal attorney might provide. Here are a few examples to help get you started:
  • Am I entitled to spousal support or alimony?
  • Can I get a restraining order against my spouse if they are a danger to me?
  • How are marital assets divided in the divorce process?
  • Do I still have to make mortgage payments if I am not listed on the title?
  • What constitutes community property and separate property?
  • Can I seek a court order forcing my spouse to accept a buyout of the home?

Should I Speak to a Divorce Lawyer?

If you’re contemplating divorce proceedings, consider sitting down with an experienced divorce attorney as soon as possible. A complicated and emotionally taxing process can be made easier with the benefit of a lawyer by your side. A family law attorney from an accomplished law firm can provide essential legal advice on marital assets, child custody, and restraining orders, all while guiding you through the nuances of divorce court. When using a database such as Super Lawyers, it would be best to find a divorce attorney operating in your current jurisdiction.

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