How to decide who gets the pet in a divorce

As all pet owners know, pets become part of your family. Often couples treat their pets like children, and the prospect of never seeing your beloved pet again can just as bad as losing custody of a child.

Research suggest that about 50% of American marriages end in divorce and that 62% of American households include at least one pet . Deciding what happens to the pet is an important factor that divorcing parties must consider.

Unfortunately, divorce courts generally treat pets as property and it is often up to the judge to decide who entitled to said property.

Many couples think they can share custody of a pet, but often it’s extremely impractical. Though our pets feel like children, a joint custody arrangement simply won’t work the same way and typically fail.

Whose pet is it?

If a spouse owned a pet before the marriage, that spouse would be entitled to keeping the pet.

But if the pet became part of the family during the marriage, thing get a bit trickier.

How to decide who gets the pet in a divorce

Do Your Kids Love The Pet?

If you have kids and they love the pet, their feelings take priority. The divorce is already difficult for them, so taking away their pet if you don’t have to, would be unfair.

If the pet is important to the children, it should live wherever they live.

While it may be impractical for couples without children to share custody of a pet, if children are involved and are going between households, it could be a good idea for the pet to go with them.

I’ve seen this scenario work, depending on the personality and needs of the pet. Though you will have to make decisions such as who pays vet bills and coordinate on consistent care for the animal.

Where do you live?

Yes, this can be an important factor. Some pets don’t do well with changes in their surroundings. Remember, these times are stressful for all involved, so if you’re the one moving out — and you know Fluffy becomes a quivering mess of nerves when you change the drapes — then leaving the pet behind, though difficult, is likely the best recourse.

What about your work schedule?

Caring for a pet jointly can be much easier than doing it alone, especially if you work long hours. Take an honest look at your schedule and determine if you will really be able to give the pet the care and attention it needs.

Keep in mind that the expense of divorce may require you to work more than you did while you were married.

Can you afford it?

The cost of caring for a pet can be very expensive. From vet visits, medicine, to food and toys, costs can add up. An emergency vet visit can cost hundreds of dollars.

You will most likely start this new chapter in a worse financial position than when you started. You have to make sure these expenses will fit in your budget before you decide to take on the pet.

Who takes care of the pet’s daily needs?

Be honest about who takes care of the animal’s basic daily needs such as feeding, walks, grooming and vet visit. If you don’t usually take care of these things you may find it to be overwhelming to suddenly have to do it on your own.

Think about which of you are best at taking care of these basic needs.

What’s best for the pet?

The most important question to consider is what is best for the pet. Pets need consistency. If one party will move around a lot or have a disrupted routine, they may not be the best owner of the pet. Losing a “member of the pack” will be stressful enough.

Even though you both love it equally, you have to make the decision that allows your pet to live the most comfortable life.

For more information on how to keep your pet in divorce schedule your divorce strategy session today.

By Maria Moya for

You might think of your dog as your fur child, but the law would not agree.

“In the eyes of the law, they are really no different than the silverware, the cars, the home,” says Joyce Tischler, director of litigation for the Animal Legal Defense Fund.

But in more and more American homes, splitting the pets could get pretty contentious.

Consider the numbers. Sixty-three percent — 71.1 million — of U.S. households own pets, according to the latest National Pet Owners Survey. The bulk of those animals are dogs — about 44 million. Americans are expected to spend about $41 billion on their pets this year, a $24 billion increase since 1994, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association.

Then throw in lifestyle and societal changes: more couples have fewer children than a generation or two ago and view their pets as their kids or companions, owners pay $2,000 for an orthopedist to reconstruct a dog’s knee; designers such as Isaac Mizrahi create pink trench coats and white tulle bridal dresses for the fashion-conscious canine whose owner shops at Target, and high-end pet stores sell rhinestone-studded dog collars, peanut butter biscotti instead of run-of-the-mill dog treats, and strollers for the walking-averse pampered pooch.

“When you put all of that together, it’s no wonder that we’re beginning to see an increasing number of custody battles involving companion animals,” Tischler says.

The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers conducted a poll of 1,500 members and nearly a quarter said they had noticed an increase in custody issues of pets. Judges have had to determine not only who gets the dog but whether one party has the right even to see the dog after the marriage breaks up.


In 1995, Florida’s First District Court of Appeals overturned a trial court’s decision granting Kathryn Bennett visits with her family’s dog Roddy. The dog was a pre-marital “asset” belonging to her ex-husband, Ronald Greg Bennett, who had been awarded custody, while his ex-wife was given visits with Roddy every other weekend and every other Christmas. Ms. Bennett returned to court contending that her ex-husband wasn’t complying with the visitation the court had ordered.

But instead of enforcing her rights as a dog parent, the appeals court denied that they existed. “As personal property, dogs must be awarded pursuant to dictates of equitable distribution statute,” the appeals court decision reads.

The ruling goes on to say that “Determinations as to custody and visitation lead to continuing enforcement and supervision problems. . Our courts are overwhelmed with the supervision of custody, visitation, and support matters related to the . protection of our children. We cannot undertake the same responsibility as to animals.”

Tischler says the Animal Legal Defense Fund regularly submits friend-of-the-court briefs in divorce cases. The document does not take sides but says there’s a third party involved in the proceedings: the animal.

“We ask the court to consider the best interest of the animal rather than treating the animal as if he or she were a toaster,” she says.

Tichler maintains that, when a judge decides who should get the dog or cat, such factors as who spends more time with the pet, who feeds it and takes it to the veterinarian and who brought it into the relationship in the first place should be considered.


Divorcing couples who fight over their pets may not be dealing with an underlying issue. An ex who takes his or her former spouse to court repeatedly over visiting Fluffy or paying veterinary bills probably is not as concerned about the dog as he or she is about controlling an ex-wife or ex-husband.

“Sometimes, in a divorce case, the pet may become a symbol of power and control and may be seen as the one entity that still loves me unconditionally,” says Nancy Peterson, an issues specialist with the Humane Society of the United States.

The legal battles involving pets can be a large emotional investment with an uncertain outcome that can run into the tens of thousands of dollars. Divorce also takes a toll on the pet. A once-energetic dog may become depressed, Peterson says. He may sleep more, eat less and lose interest in activities such as walking and playing with his owner. He may begin having accidents in the house or grooming himself excessively.

How to decide who gets the pet in a divorce

Created byВ FindLaw’s team of legal writers and editors | Last updated May 22, 2020

Some divorcing couples treasure their pets as if they are children. That’s why pet custody laws are becoming an increasingly important point of contention during divorces.

Many couples (and their children) might wonder: Who gets ownership of the family pet after a divorce? How does a court determine who gets custody of the dog in divorce?

The Issue: Pets Are Legally “Personal Property”

Pets are generally treated as personal propertyВ when a couple divorces. This is hard for many people who see a pet as part of the family. In many states, deciding who gets custody of Fido is the same asВ deciding who gets custody of the table lamp.

That’s why some courts are wary of deciding issues such as custody and visitation rights when it comes to a pet. It’s not like individuals are usually granted visitation rights to go see their favorite couch every week.

The issue is especially hard if courts refuse to get involved. Pet custody laws may become uniform at some point. But for now, what happens to your pet after a divorce is unfortunately unclear. Don’t let a pet custody battle draw out your divorce and make an already bad situation worse.

Changing Laws: Pets as More Than “Personal Property”

The good news is that some states are changing the way that they view pet custody laws. Some courts will treat pets more like a child custody case.

Judges in these courts will factor in the well-being and best interest of the pet. Then they will decide who will get custody and visitation rights.

Who Gets Custody of the Dog in Divorce Proceedings?

Pet custody depends on your state’s laws. To date, only a few states have ruled on pet custody cases:

  • AlaskaВ (Amendment HB 147 – “best interests of the pet” system)
  • IllinoisВ (Public Act 100-0422 – only awards ownership of the pet, not custody or visitation)
  • CaliforniaВ (Family Code Section 2605 – courts can award full or joint ownership)

You can also choose to add pets to a prenup agreement where you determine the custody of pets before you get married.

How to Get Custody of a Dog: How Judges Determine Custody Agreements for Dog Owners

Typically, who gets custody depends on what the courts in your jurisdiction (the location where you are going through your divorce) ruled in previous cases. In general, a pet custody dispute will review these factors:

  • Who paid for the dog (and is there evidence of payment)?
  • Who pays for the day-to-day care of the pet, such as food, doggy daycare, vet bills, or other services?
  • Who spends time with the dog?
  • Is there a history of animal abuse?
  • Will seeing the pet less affect the human children in your custody?
  • What are the best interests of the animal (does the dog prefer the company of one owner more than the other)?

Note:В Your dog could be more than a pet. If it is an emotional support animal or service animal, it is not seen as a family pet and cannot be separated from you. Talking to a doctor and certifying your dog as your emotional support animal is a tactic that some owners may take. You canВ learn more at the Animal Legal Defense FundВ website.

To win a pet custody fight, the most important thing you will need to show is that you spent the most on your pet. Gather any evidence you have of bills you have paid, time spent with your pet, and other factors that show you have put the most money and time into your pet and their well-being.

Can You Get Joint Custody for a Pet?

Not legally, unless you live in Alaska, Illinois, or California. Some courts will take the case and make a decision. However, the decision is usually one person having full ownership or “custody.” Few judges will rule on a visitation arrangement.

This can be intimidating because once the judge makes a decision, that decision will be legal. You can submit an appeal on the case if you wanted joint custody but do not win the case.

Finding anВ amicable joint custody arrangementВ is best done outside of court orВ through mediation. You will likely have to live with the judge’s decision once you bring the case to court.

New laws are changing how the courts see dogs. Still, until these laws really change, most judges will award just one person with full ownership.

Do I Have Any Options to Legally Get My Dog Back?

If your state left your pet to your ex, you are probably wondering how to get custody of your dog back. The law isn’t uniform. Potential joint pet owners may need to consider negotiating among themselves.

Using mediation is a way to find a fair resolution on who gets a pet when a relationship ends. A mediator can help you find a fair visitation schedule instead of taking the issue with you to divorce court.

Can I Sue for Pet Ownership?

Yes, you can sue anyone for just about anything inВ civilВ orВ small claims court. But you need to ask yourself if it is worth your time and money if your chances of winning are not good.

For most pet owners, it is worth any money to get their beloved pet back. The process will involve gathering evidence and witnesses, and presenting everything clearly in front of a judge. An attorney will do this for you if you hire one, and odds are you will have a stronger case if an attorney does professional work.

How Will an Attorney Actually Help Me?

If you are already using aВ divorce attorney, you can add pet ownership to the docket of other issues they will help you with.

Since most states view pets as marital property, it can be factored into the rest of your divorce agreement. You might offer something your ex wants in return for keeping your pet, and an attorney can help you draft up that agreement.

Your attorney will examine all sides of the property division and tell you what the likely outcome is. They can also offer insight into how your ex and their attorney might negotiate, so you can plan proactively.

If your pet’s ownership goes to court, you have a better chance of winning with professionally gathered and presented evidence. Your attorney will also coach you on your personal testimony, and they should have a Plan A, B, and C to try and get your pet back.

When a couple that once shared everything together decides to dissolve their marriage and go their separate ways, knowing how to divide a household up can be difficult. While the physical assets can always be replaced, a family pet cannot.

Your pet is a lot like your child. You care for it, feed it, and do what you can to give it the best life possible. When it comes time to decide who gets to keep the pet in a San Francisco divorce, the decision may not be easy. It is something that we see many couples faced with in our San Francisco family law firm, and we know it’s a decision that can weigh heavy on your heart.

As you negotiate with your ex-spouse who will get the family pet, here are a few considerations that will help with the decision:

  1. The pet should stay with the kids. Divorce is hard on children as it is. Making them say goodbye to the family pet will only make the situation even more difficult. As a rule, if you are getting a divorce and children are involved, keep the pet with the children.
  2. The pet should go to the most proactive owner. Who fed the pet the most? Who is most able to be there for the pet to go on walks and play? Looking at the best interest of your pet will sometimes provide clarity over who is most suited to look after your animal and give it a great life.
  3. When multiple pets are involved, it may be okay to divide them up. If you had more than one animal in your home, dividing up your pets may not be a bad thing. If each owner is equally capable of taking care of the pet, splitting the animals can be a solution to your pet woes.

Saying goodbye to a family pet is tough. If you need help negotiating the terms of your divorce, a San Francisco divorce attorney can make your life a little bit easier. The entire staff at the Law Offices of Paul H. Nathan will work with you to make the transition out of your marriage as easy as possible.

Is your dog your “furbaby”? Does your ex feel the same way? If you can’t agree on who gets to keep the dog after divorce, you might end up fighting for “custody” in court.

By Jess Walter Updated: June 25, 2019 Categories: Legal Issues

How to decide who gets the pet in a divorce

Plenty of couples treat their pet dog like their child. This makes divorce all the more complicated, with some owners fighting tooth and nail in court to see who gets to keep the dog after divorce.

Studies show that in 38% of divorce proceedings concerning dog owners, neither party is willing to give up their fur baby. Even though most American families consider their pet part of the family, the law usually treats pets as property.

But while you can sell your home or family car and split the money, doing the same to your dog just doesn’t feel right – even if it’s what the judge ordered.

So, who gets to keep the dog after divorce?

Due to the absence of pet custody laws in most states and provinces, not all judges consider the dog’s best interest when awarding ownership. The law states that they have to treat your beloved pet the way they would your sofa or TV: your dog is just another piece of property to be allocated to one party or the other. This is why it may make more sense to keep your dispute out of court. If you can’t figure out what to do by yourselves, you can use a neutral third-party mediator to help you negotiate.

In some cases, one spouse may have originally had the dog first, so it only makes sense that they’d keep the pet after the marriage. But it’s not always this simple. The ASPCA estimates that family changes like divorce are the reason that 27% of pets are given away or rehomed. This is far from ideal for all parties involved, which is why more couples have now found that sharing a dog after a divorce is the best compromise. However, the success of this setup greatly depends on your dog’s disposition – for instance, does your pet travel well? – as well as your ability to cooperate with each other.

Could You “Co-Parent” Your Pooch?

How to decide who gets the pet in a divorceThere are many ways to share custody. You and your ex-partner could split time with your dog evenly, switching every week or month. In cases where the pet would benefit from staying put in one place, you could have one partner act as the primary caregiver while granting the other “visitation rights”.

Sharing custody of your pet dog helps both parties maintain contact with their pet, and can be a great way to keep your pet active. But you should also consider that dogs are creatures of habit and that some dogs are more particular about routine. If you do decide to share your dog, you and your ex should agree on maintaining a consistent routine. Factor in how you’ll split pet expenses as well.

Put Your Dog’s Best Interests First

You may not think much of your partner right now, but don’t lash out and use your dog to punish your ex. When deciding who gets to keep the dog after divorce, always think of your pet’s best interest. Though it may be painful to admit, doing what’s best for your dog could mean saying goodbye and letting your ex-partner keep it.

Divorce is painful for people, but it can also take a toll on dogs. They’re also losing a family member, and possibly moving to a strange new home. If you’re considering divorce but are concerned about your dog’s wellbeing, note that divorce can actually help dogs who have grown anxious due to the stress of a conflict-ridden home. After the dust from the divorce proceedings has settled down, you might find that your dog is even happier in its new normal.

Jess Walter is a freelance writer and mother. She loves the freedom that comes with freelance life and the additional time it means she gets to spend with her family and pets.

As a Las Vegas family law attorney, we see it all. Most recently, we have had a number of cases where divorcing couples cannot decide who is entitled to the family pet. I currently have at least two cases where the only remaining issue for the judge to decide is “who gets the dog?”

As an avid dog lover myself, it is hard to imagine that someone other than myself might be entitled to my dog. It is difficult to believe that a Court would not consider what is best for my dog or who found the dog or who took care of the dog in considering who might get the dog in a divorce.

It often surprises people getting divorced that the law does not treat pets like children. There is no best interest of the dog standard. Instead, the Court system will treat the dog like property. Dogs are considered no different than a car or a piece of furniture. As a result, the dog can be divided or even sold just like any other marital asset.

Until such time as pet custody laws come along, there’s no
“best interest of the pet” standard as exists in child custody
cases. However, in cases where there is a child/pet bond that should be
preserved, the pet might end up with the parent who gets the most parenting
time with the child. If there are no children, chances are the Court is going to order the divorcing couple to sell the dog or the Court could award the dog to one party and order the party keeping to dog to pay the other person.

Because pets are often loved like family members, who gets custody of the dog after a divorce is often hotly contested. Many people consider their pet to be irreplaceable and often pet parents consider their pets, like their children, to be priceless. Sometimes, couples can agree on a custodial schedule for the dog. However, in the absence of an agreement, it will be up to the judge to decide who, if anyone, gets custody of the dog.

Contact Us

At Rosenblum Law Offices, we understand that pets are family and if you, or someone you know is going through a divorce and needs help deciding who will get custody of the dog, we can help. Call us today at (702) 433-2889 to schedule an appointment to discuss your case or fill out our on-line form for more information.

How to decide who gets the pet in a divorce

In most parts of the U.S., a pet is regarded as a piece of property or livestock, rather than a family member. In divorce cases, custody of the pet will generally be awarded to the title and registration holder.

However, there is a growing movement among judges to treat the pet as a family member, but it is still not majority practice. If you and your spouse have concerns about the welfare of your pet, it is in your best interest to form an agreement about its custody among yourselves to facilitate an amicable divorce and the pet’s well-being.

If the pet is a family companion, it is best to separate it from the fewest family members possible so that it does not become isolated and emotionally distressed. If your child has a strong bond with your pet and has raised it from a puppy or kitten, it is usually best to give the animal to whoever has custody of the child to prevent further distress to both parties.

In the case that you own two pets who have a loving bond, it may be tempting for each side to take a pet each, but this may be a selfish decision to make on your behalf, by depriving your pet of it’s mate. If, on the other hand, the divorce was amicable and both sides will still be getting together on a regular basis, this might be the best option, as the two pets will still be able to see each other and will not feel the loss of their companionship so keenly.

It’s also important to be sure that whoever lives with it will be able to provide a large enough, pet-safe household, or an enclosed yard for outdoor pets. You might also want to discuss some kind of visitation agreement with your ex. Some partners may try to take the family pet to ‘get back at’ their partner, and then realize when they get it home that they have no room, ability or desire to take care of it. Such situations concerning bad living conditions should be presented to the court, along with any photographic or video evidence of neglect, poor housing, abandonment or ill treatment.

On the other hand, if you show the animal at competitions, collect stud fees, or otherwise use your pet as a source of income, you might want to regard your pet as a business asset. If you are the title holder, you should bring documentation showing that the animal is necessary for your business to court. High-quality breeding or show animals have a high monetary value, and you can expect to have to fight for them if you have joint ownership with your partner.

In a couple, dogs are as significant, loved, and cherished as kids. So when it comes to divorce, deciding upon who gets the pet (and what shall the other party do in this case) is one of the hardest challenges and stressful moments for everyone involved.

How to decide who gets the pet in a divorce

There may be plenty of questions swarming in your head. Who gets custody of the dog? How many times a month/week/day can you visit your pup if it stays with your spouse? Or what factors can help you win the case and keep your four-legged friend with you?

And while all of these worries are reasonable and justified, in most cases, the divorcees will likely find no understanding or compassion from the court. And the reason for this is the legal status of pets during a divorce.

How the Law Treats Pets

It may be hard to hear, but legally, the shaggy pal you’ve had the best time of your life with is no different from your favorite cut-glass vase. This means that you can get the ownership (hurray, if it’s you and not your ex), but most likely, the court won’t consider visitation rights, for example.

Unfortunately, in most states, deciding upon the visitation rights for a pet is as much nonsense as deciding how many times a week you get to visit your toaster. And this is especially devastating for the individuals who consider their dogs family members or best friends.

The good news: not all US states are using this old-fashioned legal model. Some courts are beginning to treat pet-related cases similar to child custody issues. The pet’s well-being is taken into account, and a judge would make the decision based on its best interests.

Thus, if you live in Alaska, you can expect that your dog’s future will be taken seriously. The judge will consider all pros and cons of leaving the pet with either of the spouses and choose the most optimal option. This may include single custody, joint ownership, visitation hours, whatnot. After all, whatever is good for your four-pawed baby should be sufficient for you, right?

Similarly, such cases are considered in California and Illinois. Here, the parties upon divorce can expect full or shared custody, and the decision is made based on a number of factors.

What Criteria Can Influence Who Gets the Dog?

Who gets the pet will largely depend on the state, the court, and the judge hearing your case. But the following information may greatly influence the decision, regardless of the state you’re divorcing in.

When forming your expectations, take into account the financial aspects of dog ownership. Before the final decision is made, the court will consider such information as who purchased the dog, who was buying dog food, covering grooming procedures and vet examination, etc. It’s not that you can foresee your divorce, but at this stage, it’s good to have checks and bills that may prove your greater contribution to the dog’s care.

If there were kids in the marriage, the spouse who gets the kids have better chances to get the dog too. If they prove that children will suffer without their pet and it will negatively influence their physical and mental health and well-being, the judge will likely award dog custody to the child custodian.

Finally, some courts may consider the dog’s best interests in the first place. This will include who of the spouses has a better connection with the dog and who can provide the necessary care conditions such as proper feeding, walking, spending time with the dog, socializing, etc.

The exceptions are service dogs and emotional support pets. According to the law, these pets can’t be separated from their owners, so this is a trick some divorcing owners use to win custody.

How to decide who gets the pet in a divorce

Is There a Legal Way to Get Joint Custody of The Dog?

The law in most states doesn’t grant joint custody over pets.

Let’s say, if you are filing for divorce in New Mexico, there is no legal way to get shared custody over the dog. Most likely, the court will award the ownership to one of the parties, and the rest is unclear.

The other party may file an appeal, and the new case will be considered according to the same legal procedure as with other marital assets.

Alternatively, the party may offer some other asset in exchange for the dog, and again your pet’s faith will depend on the court. Whatever is the outcome, the judge’s decision will be final and everyone involved will have to live with that – including your pet.

Therefore, the best idea is to find ways for shared custody over the dog outside the court. Although the relationships may heat up during a divorce, it’s a good idea to have an open conversation as to how you can take care of your dog together while being single again. This can be done personally or through mediation; whatever the case is, it is worth trying to put your pet’s interests above yours.

Final Words

There is a common legal procedure that helps to decide who gets the dog based on a number of factors. Unfortunately, in most cases, it doesn’t include the moral aspects of owning the dog, nor the pet’s best interests.

While the after-divorce future may seem vague and unclear, you can influence your dog’s future more than you think. Even if you can’t find common grounds with your ex, the dearest member of your family doesn’t have to suffer. Starting an open conversation is the first step to reaching a joint agreement based on love for your pet and care for its well-being. Don’t expect the court to decide for you; try to put your indifferences aside and discuss how you can make this process easier and less harmful for the dog.

The judge will likely finalize your agreement, so try to find the solution that will satisfy you both and especially your fluffy friend.

About the Author: Greg Semmit has years of experience working with different types of legal documents and writing about Family Law for educational purposes. Currently, he is working at OnlineDivorcer company, where he writing blog articles about divorce and divorce cases. In his free time, he likes roaming the streets of New York with his Olympus taking photos of the best spots in the city.