When it comes time to divorce, splitting your bank account between the two of you might be an easier feat than sharing your belongings. Who gets the coffee maker, or even the whole house? It’s easy to buy a new coffee maker or a house, but when it comes to pets, they’re one of a kind, and we’re very emotionally attached to our furry and non-furry friends. Unlike children, when you divorce, pet custody can look entirely different. Let’s talk about who might get the pets during a divorce.

Brown labrador retriever

Pets are Property

As much as we love our dog or cat, ultimately they are property. They don’t have legal rights to themselves despite how some individuals may be attempting to gain personhood for these animals. While we’re not here to debate the individuality of pets, we can only tell you that the law looks upon pets as being the same as a car or an oven when it comes to who gets what. We know they’re much more than a simple appliance or piece of furniture, but the law does not consider them as much else.

Who owned the animal first?

Priority may come to the owner of the animal if it was owned before being in a relationship. For example, if a husband had a dog before marrying, he may be granted sole ownership of the dog because he carried it into the relationship with him. This can vary, however, if the shared assets in the relationship were used to cover the bulk of care for an animal, and therefore became considered a “marital property”.

Who cares for the animal the most?

If one party does the bulk of the work — walks the dog, plays with the dog, pays the vet bills for the dog, feeds the dog, etc — then it is likely that the animal should go to that person, if only for its well being. However, if it comes to a judge to decide, if you are the primary caretaker for your pet, then proving this with vet bills and more may help sway a decision on your side.

Who has the best living situation for the animal?

If you are gone all day, and your ex is home all day, it may be more fitting for your ex to have care of the animal, provided they can spend more time and attention with the animal. If you are separating and your living situation is tepid, or your earning situation is dire, then giving up your animal to your ex, provided they can care for them, may be your best option.

Get creative

Since many people consider their pets like children, you can often use an amicable divorce and come up with a creative plan to allow your ex (or your ex allow you!) to be in your pet’s life. If you’re planning to go away, you may rely on your ex to watch your pets for you — and know that they’re safe.

Putting aside your feelings

We know it’s difficult to put aside your emotions for your animals — sometimes they’re like children for many of us. However, you should consider if your animal will have a better life if they live with your ex instead of you. If you simply cannot care for your animal, whether in time, money, or with living space, you should consider allowing your ex to keep your pet. 

Remember to keep the best interests of your pet in mind — especially if you love them. If you need assistance with divorce, we can help. Contact Bernstein & Mello, PLLC today.