Many of us consider our pets as part of the family. Even if you aren’t one of the thousands of people who consider their pets their children, the thought of living without them is probably upsetting. During divorce, the consistent positivity that pets provide relieves stress, and can help make the transition for children smoother. The good news is that you can include provisions for the care of your pet in your property settlement agreement. In most states, pets are considered chattel, or personal property. From a legal standpoint, the pet belongs to both of you if purchased during the marriage. If one of you owned the pet prior to marriage, then that pet is the property of the person who came into the marriage with it.

If you own the pet together, then you need to determine who is keeping the pet. If it is your spouse, you can ask for reasonable visits, or get more specific, and ask for designated time. You can agree to financially allocate expenses for the pet. More and more, courts and mediators are becoming familiar with custody issues involving pets, and are making rulings or recommendations based on the best interest of the pet. Factors to consider are:

  • Who primarily took care of the pet during the marriage?
  • Who is most likely to meet the pet’s daily needs for exercise and attention (not to mention food and water)?
  • Do the living arrangements provide adequate space for the pet? What about outdoor space?
  • What are the parties’ work schedules?
  • Consider the type of pet you have. Will transporting the pet back and forth be a problem? Will it be stressful for your pet?
  • Which party is better able to financially care for the pet?

If your spouse owned the pet prior to marriage, then legally you have no right to the pet in most states. Obtaining a visitation schedule or custody of your pet in these scenarios comes down to negotiation. Addressing your concerns about your pet with your spouse early on is critical. Keep it positive and keep at it. Maintaining a focus on your pet’s best interest should keep the discussion productive.