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Who Gets the Pet in a Divorce?


When a couple decides to divorce, some of their biggest concerns may be who will get the house, or how custody of their children will work out. However, for some couples, another big topic might be who will get to keep the family pet. Many people consider their cat or dog a member of the family, making it hard for one spouse or the other to completely relinquish ownership. So, before a fight over the family pet adds tension to the divorce process, make sure you know how pet custody or ownership is determined in California.

As a rule, pets are considered personal property in a divorce. Although they are living, breathing creatures, they are owned and therefore counted as legal property and divided with other marital assets during the divorce process. However, there have been instances where pets are treated more like children than property, and certain “pet custody” arrangements have been made. For example, instead of completely awarding ownership of the pet to one party, a divorcing couple may choose to share their pet. So, if you and your spouse feel you may be able to make such an arrangement, try to reach an agreement that you can present to the court together.

In any case, it is usually best that spouses moving towards a divorce consider how they can negotiate the ownership of their pet amongst themselves. Like any other point of disagreement in a divorce, it can become extremely aggravating for both parties and may add tension to an already tense situation.

When determining who will get the pet in a divorce, the court will usually determine who owned the animal in the first place. If one spouse adopted or purchased the animal prior to the marriage, it will usually be considered that person’s property and awarded to them in the divorce. Adoption certificates or receipts of purchase may be used as documentation in these instances. However, if a couple adopted or purchased the animal together during their marriage, determining who owns the pet could be trickier.

If there is no clear way to determine a single owner of your pet, the court will likely consider other factors, including who cared for the pet primarily, and who is best qualified to care for it. The spouse who regularly took the dog on walks, or changed the cat’s litter box, or handled the veterinarian visits will be more likely to obtain ownership. However, in the event that each spouse shared the responsibility equally, the court may look at who is fit to provide a safe home for the pet. If for example, one spouse has a record of animal abuse, the court may award the pet to the other spouse. Or, if the animal was a family pet, the court may wish to place the pet with the parent who will have primary custody of the children.

Or, as with other types of property in a divorce, the ownership of the pet may be negotiable in terms of trade. So, the spouse who does not get the pet may be given more of the shared funds or property from the marriage instead.

If you are going through a divorce, we understand how difficult the division of property, including beloved family pets, can be. For help with your divorce process, contact Arnold Law Group, APC to speak with our Fresno divorce lawyers.

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