Pets and Divorce: Custody or Property?

Do you think worrying about what happens to a dog or cat, when there is a divorce, is silly? Probably not if you are a pet lover.

When a couple decides to divorce, the question of who gets the pets is very common. Pet lovers do not buy an animal, they adopt a family member. However, while the law focuses on the best interests of human children, pets are legally defined as personal property. Therefore, Courts tend to work under this strict interpretation.

Under the law, asking for custody or visitation rights for pets is along the lines of asking for those rights for a television or microwave. Courts will typically start by deciding if the pet belongs to the couple jointly or to an individual. If the pet was acquired or shared during a marriage, then it is ordinarily considered marital property. The court then goes through the same steps as it would other property, such as assigning a value.

As reported by the Official Blog of the Massachusetts Trial Court Law Libraries, “…legally, pets are still property. And overburdened courts are unlikely to take on the challenge of supervising how divorcing couples deal with their pets…. [D]on’t for a minute think that court is a good place to resolve your disagreements about who gets the dog….[C]ourts do not treat custody battles over pets like they do child custody cases; they will not consider the ‘best interests of the pet’.”

However, if who gets the family pet becomes a contentious issue, the courts may, at times, take into consideration:

  • Who can provide the best care for a pet?
  • Who has the strongest emotional bond?
  • Was the pet given as a gift to a specific person or the couple?
  • Also, the person awarded primary physical custody any children is likely also granted the family pet.

If you would like to speak with an attorney about your divorce and obtaining the ownership of your pets, please call our office to schedule a consultation.

What Our Clients Have To Say...


Get the answers you need.