As you prepare for your divorce proceedings in Nashville, you may be ready to move on from many aspects of your marriage; your relationship with your pet, however, may not be one of them. Pets are often afforded a great deal of love and sentiment. Just as you cannot imagine not having your children in your life following your divorce, you may feel the same way about your pet. Many have come to us here at Rogers, Shea & Spanos in your same situation wondering how the court handles the issue of pet custody. The answer can be quite complicated.
You might think pets are treated legally in the same manner as children, yet they are not. Per the Animal Legal Defense Fund, pets are considered to be personal property. Therefore, in the context of your divorce, ownership of your pet will be determined during property division proceedings. Whereas custody of children is influenced by what the court believes to be in your kids’ best interests, no such considerations may be given when deciding who gets to keep the family pets (unless, of course, there have been documented cases of animal abuse by either you or your spouse).
As pets are property, if you owned your pet prior to your marriage, then it is included in your separate property. Yet if you purchased or adopted the pet while you were married, then the court may leave it to you and your ex-spouse to determine its ownership. You can choose to hold joint ownership (and even agree to share custody), yet such an agreement will not carry the same protections as child custody (e.g. you or your ex-spouse cannot be legally required to pay “pet support”).
More information on property ownership following divorce can be found throughout our site.