When a married couple gets divorced, it can impact everyone in the family – including the family pet. In fact, sometimes the family pet becomes the focus of a divorce if the parties both want custody of the pet post-divorce. Fort Worth custody lawyer Jon Boyd discusses how custody of a family pet is handled in a Texas divorce.
Sixty-seven percent of U.S. households, or about 85 million families, own a pet, according to the 2019-2020 National Pet Owners Survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association (APPA). Nationwide, roughly 40 percent of households own a dog, 25 percent own a cat, 2.8 percent own a bird and almost one percent have a horse. Unlike many other cultures, Americans commonly treat animals as members of the family. As of 2020, Americans spent over 100 billion dollars on their pets with one in three pet owners buying their dog a birthday present and one in four paying for professional photographs of their family pet.
Our love for pets in the U.S. is well known and accepted. Most of us grew up with at least one family pet and went on to own a family pet as an adult. If you are married, what happens to that pet in a divorce? The answer may be more complicated than you anticipated.
Although you may consider your pet to be part of the family, even akin to a child, the law does not see it the same way. On the contrary, your family pet is considered property in the eyes of the law. Consequently, your pet will be treated as property if you and your spouse decide to divorce.
If you and your spouse entered into a pre or post marital agreement that addresses custody of your pet, that document will likely govern in a divorce. If you are contemplating a pre or post nuptial agreement, be sure to include your pet in that agreement.
The next consideration when deciding custody of the family pet in a divorce is whether the pet is separate or marital property. Although Texas is a community property state, that only applies to property that is designated as marital property. Separate property typically refers to property that was owned by one party prior to the marriage or that was inherited during the marriage. Therefore, if you owned your pet prior to getting married, you would likely be awarded the pet in a divorce.
If you purchased or acquired your family pet during the marriage, your pet will probably be viewed as marital, and therefore community, property. Unlike many assets, however, a pet cannot be “divided” between the parties. If you and your spouse cannot agree on who will be awarded the pet in your divorce, a judge will have to decide. In that case, there are several factors the judge will likely consider when deciding who gets custody of the pet, including:
How was the pet acquired and which party took the lead role in acquiring the pet?
Which party has been the primary caretaker of the pet over the course of the marriage?
Is one party better able to care for the pet post-divorce because of his/her work schedule?
Who feeds, exercises, and grooms the pet?
Is there evidence that either party did not want the pet?
If there are minor children who are attached to the pet, who will have conservatorship of the children post-divorce?
Has either party abused or neglected the pet?
Is there more than one pet? If so, they may be split between the parties.
If you are contemplating a Texas divorce and you believe that custody of the family pet will be a contested issue in the divorce, it is in your best interest to consult with an experienced Fort Worth custody lawyer immediately to discuss your legal options. Contact an experienced Fort Worth custody lawyer at Boyd Family Law to schedule your appointment today.