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Options for Gaining Custody of Pets in Divorce Proceedings

Choosing who keeps a pet after a divorce has become a more common issue as pets become members of the family, rather than just additional beings that happen to be in the house. Sometimes the decision is clear because the pet was bought and cared for specifically by one spouse.

However, when both spouses want the pet, or worse, when one spouse realizes the other desperately wants the pet, negotiations can heat up despite the fact that pets are considered property in most states. Options do exist for choosing who a pet stays with, though the state of the relationship between the divorcing spouses is a definite factor in choosing the most appropriate living situation. 

Shared Custody

If both spouses are on relatively good terms and live close to one another, it may be best to work out a custody agreement for the pet. This allows the pet to spend time with both pet parents and lets both pet parents have their time with the pet. These agreements do not have the same legal restrictions and protections as child custody agreements; any specifics have to be written into the agreement itself and renegotiated should one spouse want to change the agreement.


If shared custody isn't an option, either due to distance or disdain for one another, having one spouse pay the other for the pet is a possibility. This can become a dangerous proposition, though, if the spouse demanding payment decides to use the pet as a form of extortion. These payment amounts sometimes reach five figures, so they are not to be taken lightly.

Pet Pre-Nups

If you're already at the point where you're looking for a divorce lawyer, a pre-nuptial agreement will be too late for you. However, should you find yourself looking at another marriage (or even a partnership where you're living with someone without marrying them) in the future, try setting up a pet pre-nup to determine what happens to any pets you bring into or obtain during the partnership. Like the division of inanimate property, these early arrangements eliminate much of the problem surrounding pet custody.

If you are facing the loss of your pet due to divorce, consider seeking legal advice from skilled attorneys who have dealt with pet custody before. There are so many complex issues that go into deciding what to do with a pet that having this legal help should make the process more straightforward.

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Options for Gaining Custody of Pets in Divorce Proceedings | Peter A D'Angelo, Attorney at Law, PLC