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Your Divorce and the Family Pet – Who Gets the Dog?

Your Divorce and the Family Pet – Who Gets the Dog?Pets are part of the family. They provide unconditional love, make us laugh, and are always by our side. Many of us consider our pets our furry children. If you’re one of those people, and are preparing to go through a divorce, then it’s important you think about your pet.

During the divorce process, when you and your ex-spouse begin to divide your property and assets, you must decide who keeps the family pet. It does sound a bit cold to us animal lovers, but in the state of Tennessee, family pets are, indeed, considered family personal property. If you and your ex-spouse had a pre- or post-nuptial agreement in place that already outlined who would get custody of the family pet, it may not be an issue. However, if you and your ex can’t agree, the court will handle the issue just like any other property disagreement.

How does a judge decide who keeps the family pet?

If you’re going through a divorce, having issues with property division, and want to ensure you keep Spot or Fluffy, it’s prudent to talk to a family law attorney so you can be prepared.

When a couple is going through a contested divorce, meaning that they cannot agree on matters like child support or property division, they will have to appear in court and let the judge make the decisions for them.

Judges typically look at several factors when deciding who gets custody of the family pet. If you’re concerned the issue of whom the pet will reside will become contentious right from the beginning, keep these in mind:

  • Original ownership. Did either you or your ex bring the pet to the relationship? If you have adoption or ownership papers, locate them and provide them to your attorney or the court.
  • Primary caregiver. Who walked the dog every day? Fed the cat every morning? Took the animal to the vet? Who trained the puppy and spent quality time with it? If you can establish who the primary caregiver is, it could help bolster your claim.
  • Financial ability. What is each person’s ability to take care of the pet (or pets) moving forward after the divorce? Pets need food and preventative medical care at a minimum. If only one of you can pay for those things, then the judge could be swayed to grant “pet custody” to the person in a better financial situation.
  • Future care. Along with financial ability, which person can provide the best care and quality of life for the pet? What if one ex-spouse moves to a condo or apartment where outdoor space is very limited? Or if the other ex has work hours that make it difficult to spend quality time with the pet?
  • Type of animal. Is your pet a show animal or support/therapy animal? If you have a service animal, that animal is not a pet; it will automatically go with the person who requires its services. Show animals, however, may be subject to the same treatment as any other pet.

Some judges, however, don’t want to get involved in issues regarding pet custody. Every judge is different. We’ve heard about cases where a frustrated judge ordered the pet to be sold and the parties split the proceeds. (We imagine the divorcing couple managed to come up with a better solution!) There have even been cases where the judge ordered the exes to split custody of their pet.

If these options aren’t the outcome you’re looking for, talk to your divorce attorney today.

Our pets are part of our families. If you’re divorcing and are concerned about the future of your family pet, talk to the family law attorneys at Shepherd and Associates, P.C. in Maryville. We can answer your questions and help you move through the divorce process. You can reach us at 865.225.9655, or by filling out our contact form. We proudly represent clients throughout East Tennessee.