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Are pets considered property during divorce?

Around 60 percent of American families include a pet. With roughly half of all marriages ending in divorce, it could be assumed that many divorcing couples also are divorcing pet owners. As humans, we have a strong emotional bond with our animals, and although we may view them as members of our family, when it comes to the law, they are treated as property.

Just like your living room furniture and patio set, your Labrador retriever is subject to property division during divorce. And like most other pieces of marital property, if not addressed in a prenuptial agreement, a battle for ownership may ensue.

Although the law considers a family pet a piece of personal property, aspects considered when requesting custody of a pet are similar to those considered when requesting custody of a child. Assuming the pet was purchased during the marriage and is subject to property division, the court will likely ask for information related to the animal's care when determining custody. If one spouse is the primary care provider for the pet, takes it for daily walks and has a strong bond with it, the courts may be more apt to award that person custody. Likewise, if there are children involved, and they have a strong bond with the animal, a case can be made that the pet should go with whichever parent is to have primary custody of the children.

The court may also consider which spouse has a lifestyle more suited to raising an animal. Properly caring for a pet can be costly. If one spouse does not have the financial means necessary to care for the animal properly, the court may be more reluctant to award them ownership.

Pets may be considered personal property in the law's opinion, but to pet owners, they are loved members of the family. Requesting ownership, or custody, may take the help of an experienced divorce attorney. With their help, pet owners may have a better chance of retaining ownership of their animals after their divorce.

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Goddard & Malmquist
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