Divorce and Pets

In general, judges do not see pets much differently than the property a couple might divide under equitable division. Even if a judge does recognize the special meaning your pet has in your home, it is usually considered a waste of time to discuss custody of the pet. Several states treat pets in the same way they would a room of furniture. However, it is not uncommon for couples to fight bitterly over their pets, as if they were children. Here are some reported cases:

In 2001, a woman in Texas was sentenced to 30 days in jail for refusing several orders from a judge to turn over the two cats her former husband was awarded in the divorce case.

In San Diego County, California a couple waged a two-year battle over their dog, which wound up costing over $146,000.

In another case in Maryland, two years after their divorce, a couple returned to court fighting over their dog. The circuit judge has threatened to sell the animal and split the proceeds between them if they can’t agree on visitation. The wife has spent $20,000 to keep the dog.

In Dallas, Texas a couple spent $16,000 in lawyer fees fighting over their dog. After the husband “dog napped” the animal for nine days, the wife now gets custody and he gets visitation. (Information Provided by: Divorce Source, Inc.)

While the number of pet custody cases is on the rise, and studies have shown that pets often react emotionally to a divorce, it is probably in your best interest to decide custody and visitation amicably without getting the courts involved.

It is interesting to note that there have been some changes in the way in which the law deals with pets. Some states have even applied the “best interest” standard when making their decision, by taking into consideration to whom the pet is most attached.

In Wisconsin in 2007, a state lawmaker introduced a proposal that is believed to be the first pet custody law in the United States. Even more recently, Maryland lawmakers considered legislation that would treat pets as children in the sense of custody and visitation. Another court decided that if both parties could not agree on custody, the pets would be sent to a shelter. The first spouse to go to the shelter and “adopt” the pet would gain legal custody.