Who Gets Custody of the Family Pet?

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We all love our pets.  They become part of our family.  In our case we love our dogs.  We just recently lost our first dog, Riley (pictured above).  She was a 14 year-old Shih Tzu Poodle mix and we are still dealing with this loss. We got her before we were married, and we always joked with our kids that she was our first child.

Often clients want to know what happens to the family pet in divorce cases?   Usually, the pet at the center of the controversy is a dog, but we have seen cats and horses involved in the debate.   The thought of losing our pet by divorce can add more fear and pain to an already fearful and painful situation.

In North Carolina, pets are considered property in equitable distribution.  If the pet was obtained during the marriage, then he or she is marital property and will be treated as such.  If you had your pet prior to marriage, then he or she more than likely will be treated as separate property and the spouse who owned the pet prior to marriage will retain custody.  If you got her during the marriage and you are not able to come to an agreement as to possession or a schedule for the pet, then the judge will assign a monetary value to the pet and distribute the pet to one spouse  and then distribute property of equal monetary value to the other spouse.  Judges will consider equitable factors in making the award, but do not expect a custody schedule in an order from the judge for your pet.  If you go to court, then there will be a clear winner and a loser regarding custody of your  pet.

However, most couples don’t want to have a trial when it comes to their pets and desire to enter into an agreement for certainty and peace of mind.  The custody schedule of your pet can be a provision in your separation agreement.   Make sure you discuss the issue with your attorney.  If you’re able to agree on this issue in a separation agreement, then you can agree to whatever schedule works best for your family.  Maybe the pet remains in the marital home?  Or the pet can follow with the same custody schedule as your children? There are no specific rules, but you also need to address who is responsible for the vet bills and other pet expenses.

If you have any questions about this legal issue or other legal issues relating to divorce or separation, then contact us at 704-243-9693 or at www.coxlawfirm.com.

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