Tips for Getting Through a Divorce With the Right Lawyer

Divorcing More Than The Spouse: Who Gets Rover?

Who gets the pets when you and your spouse divorce? Pets are considered personal property no matter what state you live in and must go through the same protocol as divvying up the house, land, and personal belongings. All divorce proceedings follow the same procedure regarding personal property--even who gets Miss Kitty, Goldie the Goldfish, or Rover the Roving Bulldog.

You'll be asked:

  • Do you live in a community property state where everything is split in half? Or do you live in a state of equitable (fair) distribution?
  • What belongs to each spouse individually and as a couple. What's the "stuff" worth?
  • Is there a prenuptial or a postnuptial agreement?

Traditionally, pets haven't been treated like children. Times are changing slowly. Courts are beginning to look at what is in the best interest of the pet. According to Michigan State University's Animal & Legal Historical Center, dogs have been the primary consideration thus far. Some courts are determining if they benefit from full custody to one of the divorcing spouses, who gets visitation rights, and who pays alimony in regard to the dog. Most of the time, it is still the divorcees who determine who gets Rover, as there are some creative considerations like relationship determination and species that the courts must yet visit.

What About Support Animals?

Emotional support and service animals may or may not be considered pets for purposes of personal property. Many service animals and emotional support animals are considered separate from pets. Are they owned? Are they considered support like walkers, canes, and cars designed for handicapped persons? Does the Americans with Disabilities Act cover divorce disputes? Would the courts need a doctor to testify as an expert witness that the support animal is not personal property, but a medical intervention? The jury's still out.

Pets As Family Members

With half of all marriages ending in divorce and more couples opting for pets over children, pets are considered family members and not simply a subordinate species that give pleasure. Will courts stop treating pets as personal property? This isn't likely any time soon. But as times and lifestyles change, the laws may have to evolve. There are precedents already in Alaskan courts where pets are considered objects of custody negotiations and not personal property. During the past two or three decades, there have also been cases where one "parent" gets custody and the other gets visitation.

For more information, consult your attorney and check the divorce laws pertinent to your state.