Pet Custody & Divorce: Who Gets The Pets?

You’ve been through good times and bad times together, each of you by the other’s side. There are pictures of the two of you smiling and playing all through your house. When a major event occurs, video gets Instagrammed and Facebook gets updated. But, now that a divorce is pending, the thought that you might have to be separated is more than you can bear. You’ll do anything to stay together. You’ve always thought: “til death do us part.”

You probably think we’re talking about your spouse, right? No, we’re talking about the dog (or the cat).

Who Gets Pet Custody in Divorce?

When we think about divorce, our thoughts run to life without our spouse and custody of the children. Our first thoughts are rarely about man’s best friend or the cat who cuddles in our lap and purrs when we need an emotional lift. Let’s examine who gets the pets in a divorce and why you should talk about this issue with your attorney.

Pet Custody Battles Are Real

While the court views your pet as an asset, you may think of—and treat—your pet as your child. Let’s look at the numbers: 63 percent of U.S. households have a pet, mostly dogs. In 2014, the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association estimated that Americans spend around $41 billion a year on their pets.

Don’t be surprised. You probably know at least one couple who doesn’t have children but says the pets are their “kids.” Walk into any major pet product store and peruse the gourmet dog treats, the bedazzled cat collars and the water fountains that gurgle fresh water for your pet. Any vet can tell you stories of owners who spend thousands of dollars on surgeries that would have been unheard of 20 years ago.

So, most people are heavily invested in their pet, both financially and emotionally. It is no longer unusual for divorce lawyers to be asked who gets custody of the family pet.

What the Law Says About Pets

According to the Animal Legal Defense Fund, most courts view the pet as an asset, just like the retirement account or the house. In Georgia, when it comes to pet custody and divorce, this means a financial amount must be assigned to the pet in question, and it must be treated as an asset under an equitable distribution standard.

This is why, if you are concerned about maintaining custody of your animal, you need to make sure your attorney can fight for you. An attorney can make an argument that the pet is more than an asset and that the court needs to consider what is in the best interests of the animal.

If the court is considering the best interests of the pet in a divorce, the judge will want to know who spends more time with the animal, who is responsible for veterinary care and who was the owner of the animal prior to the beginning of the relationship.

Keep in mind that for some, the issue of pet custody is not really about the pet, it’s about controlling their ex. Talk honestly to your attorney about your motives for wanting custody of your pet. The key here is to make your pet decisions the same way you would with your children: what is in their best interests?  

Helping Your Pet Through a Divorce

Don’t laugh: pets get stressed during a contentious divorce just like people do. It’s chaotic, and family members they are used to seeing are no longer around. Fortunately, there are ways to help pets in a divorce.

One way to help your pet is to keep them in familiar surroundings if possible, and make sure their normal routine is the same. Feed them at their normal times, walk them normally, clean litter boxes daily, etc. Keep their vet appointments. Most importantly, in the midst of a hectic and stressful divorce, don’t forget about your pet. They still need to be exercised and played with.

In most circumstances, the pet will follow the children. Where the kids go to live, the pet will go to live. Also, if there are multiple pets, try and keep them together. They are probably bonded and would want to stay that way.

For many people, their dog or cat is just as much a member of the family as anyone else. It’s entirely appropriate to wonder who gets the pets in a divorce. However, since the court might see the pet as just another asset, it’s important to have good legal representation on this matter.

If you are in Henry, Clayton, Fayette or another metro Atlanta county, and you are starting the divorce process (with or without a furry companion), please let us know how we can help. Besides specializing in who gets pet custody in divorce, our attorneys work with other family law cases including father’s rights, child support, and more. Setting up a consultation begins with filling out our brief, convenient online contact form. At Family Matters Law Group, we fight for all the members of your family, both the two- and four-legged varieties.