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My pets are family. What will happen to them in my divorce?

On Behalf of | Sep 9, 2022 | Divorce |

You’re not alone in considering your pets to be family members. An American Veterinary Medical Association study found that 85% of dog owners and 76% of cat owners think of their pets as family.

That could mean for some tough choices in your divorce. Fortunately or unfortunately, the state of North Carolina does not consider pets as family members. It treats them as property.

There is a movement going on nationwide to change this. Some states, notably California, now use more of a personhood standard when determining who gets the pets. That is to say, a North Carolina court will consider who has the strongest ownership interest in the pet. California courts consider what is in the pet’s best interest.

California isn’t alone. New York, Alaska, New Hampshire and Illinois have also adopted laws that tell courts to take into consideration the pet’s best interest and which spouse is better able to care for the pet. The courts themselves in other states – Texas, Florida and Vermont – have considered the pet’s best interest in a few specific cases, according to nextavenue.com.

In North Carolina, you won’t yet find judges assigning “pet custody.” If you take the issue to court, the pets are likely to be awarded to the person with the strongest argument that they own the pet.

An argument that you own the pet might consider factors such as:

  • Whether the pet was a gift and, if so, to whom
  • Whether you bought the pet before the marriage or as a couple
  • Whether you agreed at the time that the pet was yours
  • Who paid for the veterinary expenses, including who took the pet to the veterinarian
  • Who put in the most time caring for the animal

That said, you don’t necessarily have to take the question to the court. You can work out an agreement with your divorcing spouse, either through negotiation or mediation. If you can’t agree on one person to have the pet, you can agree to share time with the pet.

If you have children, consider whether the pet will be traded at the same time as the kids. That could mean the parent without the children would have the pet. Or it could mean the pet traves with the kids. You can come to any agreement you wish, but it will only be enforceable if it is made into a contract or made part of your divorce agreement.

The issue of who gets the pets can be a truly wrenching one in divorce. Be sure to choose a compassionate lawyer who will go the extra mile for you.


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