Who Gets the Pets in a Divorce?

In a divorce, the courts handle many different issues: who gets custody of the kids, how property is divided, and how child support is calculated. What happens if the parties share a pet and cannot decide on who gets to keep the pet?

Community Property

In the State of Texas, pets are considered community property. It may seem cold because these pets are more like members of the family. However, if the spouses cannot agree on who keeps the family pets, the judge will be left to treat the pet just like any other asset.

Texas is a community property state so any property that is accumulated during the marriage is given a value and assigned to one spouse, including the pet.

A judge has the responsibility of deciding which spouse will get to keep the pet, and the spouse that does not get to keep the pet will receive a different asset to offset the value assigned to the pet for the other spouse.

In theory, if there are not sufficient assets to balance the value of the pet and the spouse who does receive the pet is not able to pay the other spouse the value of this off-set asset, the court could technically order the pet be sold to share the proceeds. However, for understandable reasons, this solution is not preferred.

If the pet was acquired by one of the spouses before the marriage, or if the pet was given to him or her as a gift or as part of an inheritance, the pet will be considered that spouse’s separate property. Whatever property is deemed “separate” remains the property of the spouse who owns it, which means the pet will automatically go with the respective spouse who is deemed the “owner.”

What About Custody of the Pet?

Since most people view their pets as members of the family, more like kids than property, the question often comes up as to who will get custody or visitation of the pet. Texas divorce courts do not issue custody or visitation orders, however, because of the fact that pets are considered property of the marriage.

However, when making the determination of who gets the pet, the courts will still weigh the factors used in child custody cases, in making their decisions, such as who spent the most time with the pet, cared for it during the marriage, etc.

Another factor that is considered is whether this pet is an animal that is loved and cared for by the parties’ minor children. If one parent is getting custody of the children and the children love and would miss the pet if the pet did not live with them, that will certainly be a consideration by the court in making the final determination.

Many courts recommend that people put their wishes into writing. Sometimes it helps to put these wishes as to who would get the pet in the event of a possible split in a premarital or cohabitation agreement. Then, the court would have no choice but to abide by the terms of the parties’ agreement instead of defaulting to the property division laws.

Settlement Agreements

Just because a Texas family court judge will not make the official determination on who gets “custody” of the parties’ pet does not mean the parties cannot come to an agreement in settlement negotiations.

Parties are always recommended to come to agreements in divorce matters, and an agreement on who gets the pet and whether the “non-custodial” pet parent will get visitation are always allowed. If the parties are able to come to an agreement on these issues and put this agreement in writing, it can and will become part of the final divorce agreement.

As such, if any issues come up later on down the line and one party is not abiding by the terms of the agreement, the court will view this matter and will treat it just as if any other part of the settlement agreement were not being followed.

If one party gets “custody” of the pet and is not allowing the other party the agreed amount of “visitation” time with the pet, the court will handle this matter just as it would any other issue with one of the ex-spouses not abiding by the terms of the divorce settlement agreement.

An attorney can help prepare the agreement to ensure that the terms are properly written in the event a later disagreement happens to occur.

Contact A Custody Lawyer Today

If you have questions about how ownership of your pet will be handled in your divorce case, please contact family lawyers at Scott M. Brown and Associates. You can reach us by calling (979) 318-3075 or completing our online form. We have offices in Angleton, League City/Clear Lake, and Pearland.

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