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Pet Custody Laws: 5 Things to Know

By Deanne Katz, Esq. | Last updated on

Divorce and custody battles go hand-in-hand but what many don't know is that includes pet custody arrangements as well as child custody ones.

Pets are generally considered property in most jurisdictions but many states also recognize that both parties in a divorce may have a significant relationship with their companion animal. A pet isn't something that can be easily replaced or paid for, so courts may be willing to entertain the idea of a custody arrangement.

If you're gearing up for or in the middle of a pet custody battle, we have some tips that could help you come out on top.

  1. Buyers keepers. Since pets are generally seen as property in the eyes of the law, the person who paid for the pet sometimes has a better chance of keeping it. That doesn't just mean the purchase cost - it includes food and medical expenses. If you weren't the one to pay originally, you should be prepared to reimburse your ex if you get custody.

  2. Care matters. Even if you didn't buy the pet, courts want to know who cares for your dog or cat. Just like with child custody, judges want to make sure your dog will go to a person who will keep it healthy and happy. Evidence of walking the dog, taking it to vet appointments, and generally spending time together all work in your favor.

  3. Ownership is nine-tenths possession. The person who is keeping the pet during proceedings can have an edge when it comes to a custody battle. It's another example to the judge that you are the primary caregiver for the pet. If you want to keep your pet, fight to keep them during the divorce too.

  4. Don't steal. Divorce gets contentious but just because disagree with what your ex is doing doesn't mean you should steal your dog back so it can stay with you. Courts will consider that theft and you could get in criminal trouble as well as losing custody of your pet.

  5. Consider sharing. If you and your ex are open to the idea, time sharing is an option that works for some couples who both love their pet and want to spend time with it. If you both want to keep the pet, why not make it sure it still gets love from both of you even if you aren't together.

Talk to your divorce attorney about how pet custody is determined in your state so that you are prepared when it comes up in court.

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