What Happens to Your Pets After Divorce?

In many families, their furry or feathery friends are considered to be family members too. In many states, pets are legally seen as property, but animal rights advocates are pushing to have animals recognized as a separate class of property in divorce cases to ensure that both pets and their owners can receive a fair decision when it comes to determining who can keep Fido after the divorce.

Who Keeps Your Pets After the Divorce?

In some households, a pet may be considered the property of one spouse or may be well known to prefer one spouse over the other. Pet owners who value their pet’s wellbeing may allow the pet to remain with the spouse that is preferred by the pet or who owns the pet. Spouses may also determine ownership and custody of the pet based on which spouse is better equipped to handle the animal’s needs. A busy spouse may not have the time to devote to their pet, and the pet may suffer as a result.

If there are children in the family, the pet may stay with the parent that has primary custody of the children. Some pets who travel well and adjust to changes easily may be sent between spouses’ homes with the children. Some pets are more flexible than others, however, so it is important to consider your individual animal’s personality when making this decision.

If the ownership of the pet is disputed, the court may look at each spouse’s contributions to the care and health of the pet. If you are the primary caregiver and tend to buy most of the pet’s supplies, you may be awarded the custody of your pet.

Fighting for Custody of Your Pet

It also isn’t uncommon for one spouse to use a pet against the other spouse to gain the upper hand in a divorce. If your spouse is trying to use your emotional attachment to your pet to leverage an agreement they want, you can fight back. Some states have passed laws that require judges to consider the pet’s best interests when assigning ownership, but it is also important to remember that the judge may also be a pet owner themselves and understands the emotional bond you have with your animal. If you can provide evidence of being the primary caretaker, the judge may determine that it is best for the pet to remain with you.

Evidence to support your claim may include:

  • A statement from the vet indicating you as the responsible party for visits and veterinary care.
  • A signed pet license application.
  • Receipts for pet supplies, grooming services, or training classes with your signature.
  • Testimony from neighbors that you are the one who takes the dog on walks, plays with them, and cleans up after them.

You also may wish to gather evidence to support a claim that you are better suited to pet ownership. If your spouse travels frequently, works long hours, or doesn’t have the necessary space for the animal’s best interests, you may be able to gain custody of your pet. Your pet needs consistency, regular interactions, and safety, so be sure to show how you are equipped to provide these needs for them.

At The Meadows Law Firm, we are well aware of the emotional impact a divorce can have. You are experiencing enough loss without also losing ownership of a beloved companion. Our West Chester divorce lawyers can help you fight for the best interests of your family, including your pets. We pride ourselves on open communication and compassionate, efficient legal representation for every client.

Contact our offices to start your case today. Call (513) 334-0777 to request a free consultation.


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