In a divorce, who keeps the pets?

On Behalf of | Jan 11, 2021 | Family Law |

According to the Insurance Information Institute (III), nearly 67% of households across the United States have a pet. This fact is likely not a surprise to many families, many of which think of their dog or cat as a member of the family.

However, it is important to note that beloved pets are quickly becoming one of the biggest issues in many divorces.

Pets are property under the law

More and more modern divorces involve serious disputes over the ownership of the family pets. These disputes are understandable. We love our pets, and thinking about losing them in a divorce can be incredibly distressing.

It is possible for spouses to agree on and create their own arrangement out of court if they wish to share time and ownership of their pet after divorce. However, if the dispute goes to court, it is critical to note that courts will determine one spouse to keep the pet – not how spouses will share ownership –  by evaluating North Carolina’s property division guidelines.

The treatment of pets as property in these situations has created quite a controversy, leading some states to pass a pet custody law. But North Carolina still sees pets as property when it comes to a divorce.

How do courts decide ownership?

Courts may not consider particular matters under the marital property statute, such as a spouse’s income, in these situations. While they will not create a custody-type arrangement for the pet, they will consider some matters in the best interests of the pet, such as:

  • Who owns the pet? If one spouse adopted the pet before the marriage, then the pet is their separate property. If spouses adopted the pet together during the marriage, it will be considered marital property and courts will determine who will keep ownership based on several factors.
  • Who cares for the pet? When deciding which spouse will keep the pet, courts will often evaluate who provides the most care for the pet. This includes who purchases toys and necessities for the pet, takes them to the vet or has the ability to care for the pet properly.
  • Who has primary child custody? If there are children involved in the divorce, it is likely that the parent with primary custody will retain ownership of the family pet. This is because this parent often remains in the family home the pet is accustomed to, and children often have an attachment to the pet.

Deciding pet ownership after a divorce is no easy task for either spouse, but it is a reality for many in this day and age, and they must understand how it will work if they decide to end their marriage.