When our Dallas readers think of divorce, a few common themes are likely to arise. One is property division, along with question of who gets what and how much. Another is child custody, which typically will require some sort of parenting plan. However, there is another common element of divorce today that combines a bit of both property division and child custody. That is dealing with the family pet.

On the one hand, pets are — legally speaking — property. Animals do not have the same legal rights as humans, and are not treated the same way as children in a divorce. A court cannot rule on pet custody the same way it can with children; it cannot enforce a visitation schedule or order support payments to the non-custodial partner. But if necessary, the court will determine who gets the pet in the divorce.

On the other hand, courts recognize that a pet is a living creature and often a cherished member of the family. If divorcing partners can come to an agreement about sharing custody of a pet, the court can sign off on such an agreement as part of a divorce settlement. If they cannot agree, the court will try to take into consideration factors like which spouse spent more time with the animal, who took it to veterinarian appointments and so on. A judge may also look at the bond between a pet and the children, and try to keep them together if it’s in the best interest of the children.

Pets enrich our lives in many ways, and disputes over pet custody in divorce can provoke heated emotions. A legal professional can help draft an agreement that will satisfy both parties — and the court — if possible. He or she can also advise a divorcing spouse on how to fight for pet custody in court, if necessary.