Keith B. Schulefand, Esq.
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In a divorce, who keeps the pet?

Approximately 50 percent of marriages in the United States end in divorce, and approximately 60 percent of American households own a pet. It should go without saying that many couples that are divorcing also have pets.

This raises an important question: When a couple is divorcing, who gets to keep the pet?

Pets are factoring into divorce agreements more and more often, according to the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. While you may consider your dog or cat a member of the family, they are still legally considered property. Therefore, a court may incorporate the ownership of an animal into its decision regarding property division.

When a court decides which spouse gets to keep a pet, there are a few important questions that it takes into consideration, such as:

Who does the pet belong to?

The spouse who purchased or adopted the pet is usually the spouse who will get to keep it. This is especially applicable to pets who were adopted before the marriage.

Who took care of the pet?

The court will also consider who cared for the pet: Who purchased pet supplies; who took it to the veterinarian; who walked it, cleaned up after it, and fed it. Even if your spouse is the one who originally adopted the animal, you may have a case for ownership if you can demonstrate that your spouse was neglectful and you became the primary caretaker.

What about pets and children?

If you have children from your marriage, their custody arrangement can also play an important role in the fate of your pet. If your furry friend was a big part of the children’s lives, then it may be in the best interest of the children and pet alike to keep them together.

Which spouse would be the best caretaker?

The wellbeing of the animal are at stake in a divorce: If your spouse has a hectic lifestyle that involves a lot of travel and an unpredictable schedule, then they may not be able to care for a pet as well as you could. Your lifestyle and ability to care for an animal will likely influence the court’s decision regarding pet ownership.

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