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Who gets Custody of the Pets in a Divorce?

A sad puppy clinging to its owner in the owner's arms beside the words pet custodyThe majority of U.S. households – 68 percent – have at least one pet. Dogs and cats are by far the most popular types of pets with 90 million dogs and 94 million cats living happily with their pet parents. But what happens when their owners get divorced? How does the law recognize pets? Who gets custody of the pets?

In most states, judges do not consider any emotional bonds that may exist between pets and their parents. Pets are considered property, and they are divided between the parties along with the rest of the marital property. Here are the factors that judges consider when determining who gets “custody” of pets in a divorce:

Pet Custody under Texas Law

Although your pet is a beloved family member with emotions and familial bonds, Texas law views it as marital property. Under Texas law, your pet is not viewed any differently than your vinyl record collection or your couch; as such, it will be grouped with the rest of your marital property, and who gets possession of the pet will be determined at your divorce proceedings.

If you can prove that you had your pet before you got married or received it as a gift during your marriage, you may be able to claim it as separate property. This means that you will get custody of your pet automatically without having to wait for the judge to decide for you. However, if you cannot prove that the pet is your property, the judge will decide who gets the pet based on the perceived value of the pet and how the rest of the property has been divided. The judge may even order that you sell your pet and divide the proceeds.

Changing Laws Regarding Pet Custody

In recent years, there have been major changes in the ways that some court systems approach pet custody. Some states – including California, Alaska, and Illinois – do not view pets as mere property. Instead, the courts view pets as family members and assign custody much like they do in child custody cases. Courts may even grant visitation rights to the non-custodial parent.

In deciding who should get the family pet, courts in these states consider factors that affect the well-being of the pet, such as:

  • Which parent has the greatest emotional bond with the pet
  • Which parent has the most resources to care for the pet
  • Where the kids – if any – will be living full-time
  • Which parent can offer the best quality of life
  • Which parent provided the most care for the pet

How to Win Pet “Custody” in Texas Divorce Proceedings

If you’re fighting for pet custody in the state of Texas, the judge may not care about whom the pet loves more or who makes the most money; they will most likely take into consideration hard evidence that proves ownership of the pet, such as:

  • Ownership or adoption papers
  • Receipt of purchase
  • Vet records in your name
  • Any documentation that lists you as the owner

Additionally, the judge may be interested in hearing about other factors that affect your ex’s ability to care for the pet. For example, if your ex lives in housing that does not allow pets, the judge may grant you custody.

In cases where it is difficult to assign ownership, the judge may take into consideration who provided the most care for the pet. When this is the case, pictures of you with the pet, records of training classes attended, and calendar entries may help.

Pitfalls of Letting the Judge Decide

In Texas, the judge does not have to consider emotional bonds or the well-being of the pet whatsoever; they’re only interested in dividing marital property equitably. If you don’t negotiate pet custody ahead of time, the judge may make the decision for you. And there’s no guarantee that it will be one you agree with. It may even prove to be devastating.

If you’re considering divorce, it’s vital that you have a competent divorce attorney on your side. Contact Alison Grant, Attorney at Law today to learn more about how pet custody may be decided in your divorce proceedings. Do not let a judge decide the fate of your beloved fur baby; take action into your own hands with the right attorney.

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