As a divorce attorney in Maryville, I have had the opportunity to work with a lot of folks who were a bit unsure about how their property would be divided by a judge. Sometimes I would meet with the spouse’s attorney and try to work out an agreement; sometimes I would have to take a more aggressive approach in court to make sure my clients kept what was theirs. Lately I’ve noticed that the disagreements about property have focused less on who keeps the summer house and more on who gets to keep Fido. (And it looks like I’m not the only lawyer who hears this question.)
Pet ownership is like property ownership: subject to division
While we may treat our pets like family, the truth is that under the law, they are property: plain and simple. Whose property they are depends on the same kinds of factors that determine who keeps the silverware or the car or the family home. If you brought your pet into the marriage, the chances are good that you will get to keep your furry friend in the divorce. If, however, you and your spouse purchased or adopted a pet together, then a judge will make a ruling on who keeps him or her.
How the judge decides who gets to keep Fido may be based on a number of factors:
- Which of you spends more time, effort and/or money on the pet?
- Which of you can provide a safer home environment for the pet?
- Do either of you travel extensively, thus necessitating leaving the pet alone or in a kennel for extended periods of time?
- If the pet was purchased for your children, which household is considered the primary residence for your children?
Just as with any piece of property, your pet will be awarded as part of an equitable division between you and your spouse. Certain factors might sway the judge – if, for example, you want to keep your pet and your spouse is indifferent, you will likely be awarded “custody” – but ultimately, it will come down to what is best for the animal and what is fair for everyone. There are couples all over Tennessee who share “custody” of their pets the way they share parenting time with their children, and if you and your ex are on good terms, this might be the right way to handle it. Otherwise, you and your ex may have to face the fact that only one of you can keep the dog or cat.