Your Pets vs. You and Your Spouse: How Courts See Pets in a Divorce Proceeding

As an Austin divorce lawyer, I understand that divorcing couples have another area they tend to argue about… pets. Most people consider their dogs, cats and other family pets a big part of their family. The thought of being away from these pets can be quite unbearable.

When a family pet is part of the custody case in an Austin divorce case, it’s important that the legal representative gets his/her client ready for the reality of how family court judges see pet custody disputes.

  1. Texas law stipulates that pets are seen as personal property. Thus, they are not seen as children and are not treated as such whether or not both parties “have parental feelings” for the animal.
  2. Since pets are thought of as property, it’s believed they’re community property. Community property is awarded to only one person in the divorce. If one person can show that the pet is separate property then the pet will be given to that person.
  3. If parties cannot reach an agreement on custody regarding expensive pets such as purebred cats, dogs, show animals and horses, the court will order the sale of the pet and the proceeds of the sale are equally divided.

If the couple, for whatever reason, cannot agree on pet custody, the court (and judge) will ultimately decide the pet’s fate. When a party is seeking custody of the pet, he or she will need to pass the “best interest of the pet” test the court will want satisfied. This test includes:

  • The person must have been the chief caregiver since the pet joined the family
  • The person has paid for the pet’s expenses including food, grooming, vet bills, etc. since the family took it in.
  • The person is financially able to care for the pet.
  • The person has a lifestyle that fits more with the pet’s needs and requirements.
  • The person has more living space for the animals (this is especially important of the pet is large in size).

Another consideration judges must look at is whether or not the children have grown attached to the pet in question. Since divorce already takes an emotional toll on children, it’s in the best interest for children to have their pets with them. This is so children will not lose their pets either.

Once you decide you’re going to get divorced, you’ll need to make your Austin divorce attorney aware if you and your spouse are going to have difficulties agreeing on pet custody. You want your lawyer to understand upfront how important your pet is to you and you want to make sure that he/she will do all they can do to help you gain custody of your pet.

Do you have questions regarding pet custody during divorce proceedings? Then talk with an experienced and knowledgeable Austin divorce attorney today.


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