We pet lovers would all agree that our pets are family members. In divorce cases, divorcing couples are increasingly battling each other in the legal system for the right to keep the family cat or dog. How do courts handle pets in a divorce?
According to the Animal League Defense Fund (ALDF):
“Although animals are considered property in the eyes of the law at this time, some courts are beginning to recognize that one’s relationship with this particular form of property known as the family cat, dog, bird, etc., is much different from one’s relationship with other forms of property such as your couch, your watch, or your coffee pot.”
In Texas, pets are considered to be personal property subject to division by the Court in a divorce. The exception is if the pet in question is the “separate” property of the party-meaning that the pet was acquired prior to the marriage by the party, or the party inherited the pet or received it as a gift.
This issue has arisen in several cases I have been involved with. At trial, it has been my experience that if the Court determines that the pet is community property subject to division, the Judge may consider the following factors, much like the best interest test in custody cases:
Which party primarily takes care of the pet’s daily needs such as feeding, walking, grooming, and general care?
Which party is the pet primarily “attached” to?
Who takes the pet to the vet?
In the case of a dog, which party is responsible for training?
Going forward, which party is better able to financially care for the pet?
I have seen Judges award the pet to one party or the other. I have also seen Judges order possession schedules for the pet, or in cases where children are involved, order that the pet goes with the child. If a pet is involved in your divorce, let’s all hope that you will put your pet’s best interest before your own, and come up with an agreement that maximizes the benefit to the pet and not just to you.
In my next blog, I will discuss more about pets and the law, as well as what the Texas Legislature and some local courts have done to protect pets.