Who Gets Custody of Your Pets When You Divorce?


You and your spouse might fight like cats and dogs.  And your fur babies may be one of the elements of your marital disputes.  After all, your pets are part of your family.  Are you worried who will get custody of your pets when you divorce?

There’s no question that animals can hold a special place in every divorcing person’s heart.  Who knows?  Maybe some couples even stay together for the sake of the pets.  Certainly, no one is happy to hear that their treasured animals are actually considered marital property.  Therefore, figuring out who gets the dog or cat is subject to equitable distribution.

Planning in Advance for Pet Custody

You can’t make an agreement regarding child support or child custody in a prenuptial agreement.  However, there’s nothing stopping you from signing off on pet custody in the event the marriage doesn’t last.

You may have come into the relationship with a pet.  Or, perhaps the two of you purchased one together.  Your bond is obviously priceless.  You might be wise to discuss your concerns with an experienced family law attorney.  There’s no harm in including language concerning your pet in your prenuptial agreement.  And, yes, we mean both rights and responsibilities.

Although a great many couples are adoring owners of cats and dogs, other animals may become the subject of dispute.  For example, consider the lifespan of an African Gray Parrot.  Some live to human retirement age.   Maybe you enjoy riding a horse and are concerned it could be sold off to facilitate equitable distribution.

Pets are Subject to Equitable Distribution

The mere thought that pets are property subject to equitable distribution sounds callous.  There are fewer problems if one party owned the animal prior to the marriage date.  In that case, the pet would be considered a pre-marital asset and the original owner can breathe a sigh of relief.

New Jersey is not the only state that considers pets as marital property.  According to a recent news article, Alaska became the first state to approach pet custody differently.  Child custody laws across the nation take into account the “best interests of the children.”  Alaska will now consider the “best interests of the animal” in awarding custody of pets.

If pets are subject to equitable distribution, does this mean they are assigned a dollar amount?  Of course, you can’t put a price tag on the relationship between an animal and its family.  Instead, pet custody is generally determined after reviewing these factors:

  • Did one party own the pet before the marriage?
  • Do both husband and wife have an interest in the animal’s custody?
  • Has one of the spouses assumed more care for the pet?
  • Will one parent have primary custody of the children who may miss the family pet?
  • Who brings the animal to the vet and takes care of it?
  • Can a visitation schedule be set up so that the animal enjoys time with both owners?
  • Has the pet been registered as a therapy animal?

Contact Us

There’s no dispute that pets are valued members of the family unit.  Concerned that pet custody may be an issue?  The Law Offices of Sam Stoia can help.  Contact us to set up a meeting at no charge.