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Pets and Divorce

Let’s be honest- pets are family. 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). This is up from 56 percent of U.S. households in 1988, the first year the survey was conducted (which is a wonderful thing).  Based on that fact, it should not be surprising that divorcing couples often argue over who will get “custody” of the beloved family dog, cat, or other pet. While couples may argue otherwise, the truth is Judges have no legal authority over pet “custody” arrangements during a divorce proceeding.

Courts are increasingly considering what is in an animal’s best interest because, after all, they are probably pet owners as well.  Which party can better care for the pet after divorce is Judges consider during a divorce proceeding.

The definition of a “pet owner” is traditionally defined as “any person having a right of property in an animal, or one who keeps or harbors an animal, has it in his or her care, or acts as its custodian.” Of course, this can be a husband and wife going through a divorce. Unfortunately, under the law, pets are still considered property-therefore, subject to division by the Court.

As society moves from viewing pets as “property” and begins to view them more and more as family, there will likely be more instances of couples arguing over the “custody” of their pets. While legislation can change at some point, the current state of the law stands that during a divorce, the Court has no legal authority to award “custody” of pets.