It might be hard to imagine a loving, treasured pet as property, but in legal terms that is the cold, hard truth.  While they’ve probably brought you far more joy and have received much more of your affection than a home or car, a Texas court will look at Fido or Fluffy as just another piece of community property from your marriage that must be divided.  Here, we look at what you need to know about pet ownership after divorce.[1]

With over 60% of households having at least one companion animal, pet ownership is a frequent concern when a couple splits. Sometimes it’s easy to determine who gets the pets after a divorce, but, sadly, pets can be used as pawns, especially if the break-up is contentious. In a number of North Texas jurisdictions, there are local standing orders that protect the parties and their children and property, and this protection extends to protecting pets from harm during the contentious periods of separation in the course of the divorce. If ownership can’t be agreed upon by both spouses, here are things the courts might consider to determine pet custody.

Common Considerations for Pet Custody

Who owns the pet? While Texas is a community property state, there are some provisions that list certain property as “separate”. The primary defining characteristics for property to be considered separate are ownership before the marriage, an inheritance received by one spouse during the marriage, or a gift to one spouse, each of which would result in the subject property to be considered separate property. Thus your pet might arguably qualify as separate property in the eyes of the court. For instance, if the pet belonged to one spouse prior to the marriage, there’s a strong chance that’s who will get the pet after a divorce.

Where are the kids going to live? The courts might determine that pets should go with the children. And given the fact that children can get so attached to pets, that might be the best determination for you and your spouse to consider. Or, like the children, you might consider sharing pet custody, as well.

Who really takes care of the pet? The courts might consider who takes the dog for walks, takes it to the vet, feeds it or administers its medication(s).

Which spouse is really suited to take the pet(s)? If one spouse works long hours or spends a lot of time out of town, the courts will take this into account. In many cases, it will be quite clear which environment would be best for the pet(s).

Documenting can never hurt

If you’re concerned that pet ownership could be a sticking point in your divorce, you might start documenting certain things that will support your argument for ownership. For instance, you might get your veterinarian to sign a document stating that it’s you, not your spouse, who brings your pet in for doctor’s visits. Or maybe a neighbor will attest that you’re the one who regularly takes the dog for a walk. And who signed the application for a dog license? If it’s you, obtain proof of that claim.[2]

Pre-and Postnuptial Agreements

The best way to address pet ownership after divorce is by outlining the arrangements in a prenuptial agreement. And if you’re already married when the pet joins the family, a postnuptial agreement will serve the same purpose.

It’s hard to consider your pets as community property when they add so much love and comfort to life. But, like it or not, that’s how they’re treated in the eyes of the law. If you have questions about pet ownership after divorce, or if you need assistance with any type of family law concern, contact the law offices of Mary Ann Beaty. She’s a board-certified family law attorney who’s been representing clients with skill and compassion for over forty (40) years.

[1] For a sensitive and compassionate, but simultaneously practical, analysis of the subject of beloved pets and property, see Strickland v. Medlen, 56 Tex.Sup.Ct.J. 470, 397 S.W.3d 184 (2013)

[2] Lira v. Greater Houston German Shepherd Dog Rescue, Inc., 59 Tex.Sup.Ct.J. 562, 488 S.W.3d 300 (2016).  The Texas Supreme Court speaks regarding the importance of documentation of treatment and care of your pet.