Statistics show that approximately 62 percent of U.S. households have at least one pet. In many cases, a beloved dog or cat is considered to be an integral and important part of the family. Given the amount of time and money people spend with and on their pets, it's not surprising that disputes over who should retain custody of a pet frequently erupt between divorcing spouses.
While many pet owners may view a dog or cat as being their only or another child, in a divorce, a pet is legally classified as personal property. This means that, like all personal property, an individual could take steps to protect his or her ownership rights to a pet prior to marrying via a prenuptial agreement or even while married via a postnuptial agreement. In cases where neither of these documents exists and a divorcing couple isn't able to come to an agreement about who should keep a pet, a judge will take several factors into consideration when determining pet ownership or custody matters.
In cases where a pet was owned by one spouse prior to a marriage, even without a prenup, a judge may decide that a pet should stay with its original owner. In cases where a couple acquired or purchased a pet while together, a judge will want to know who primarily feeds, walks, grooms, plays with and takes a pet to the veterinarian.
Additionally, if one spouse travels frequently for work or works long hours while the other spouse works from home or has more standard hours, the spouse who is around more may be better suited to tend to a pet's needs. In divorce cases involving children, a judge may decide that a pet should stay with the parent who has primary physical custody.
Today, divorce cases involving pet custody and ownership disputes are common. Individuals who fear they will lose a pet in a divorce would be wise to discuss their concerns with a divorce attorney who can work to build a compelling case for why an individual should retain pet custody.
Source: Forbes, "How Are Pets Handled In Divorce?," Jeff Landers, April, 17, 2016