What Happens to Your Pets in a Divorce?

Divorce is one of the most difficult changes a person can experience. One must negotiate assets and custody issues, which is hard on people even in the best of times. Then you must consider the effect on other living beings: your pets.

Just as parents want to protect the feelings of their children in a divorce, many pet owners place a high value on their pet’s quality of life. Moreover, they may regard their pets as family, and they are concerned about losing them.

In this article, we will broadly explore the topics of property and pet ownership. Then we will look at how those ideas intersect in a divorce.

How the Law Views Your Pets

Generally, pets are considered assets, just like any other property. Couples who cannot agree on pet ownership may end up in court, where a judge will decide who gets custody of their furry friend.

How Is Property Classified in a Divorce?

Now that we know a court will view your pet as property, it’s time to discuss how it handles property division. Of course, there are variations from state to state, but generally, two types of property exist within a marriage.

Marital Property

Marital property refers to assets and debts that the couple acquired during the marriage. Both spouses own this property equally.

Therefore, in a divorce, that ownership must change. At first, two people owned the property, but now only one person will. The court must divide marital property between the spouses, or couples can make property agreements among themselves.

One spouse could receive sole ownership of an asset, and the other gets something else. Maybe the couple sells certain property and splits the money. There are many potential outcomes, and different agreements will apply to different property.

As you can imagine, this process can be complex and may involve appraisals, negotiations, and legal representation.

Separate Property

In a marriage, separate property refers to assets that only one person owns.

Generally, this includes:

  • Property someone owns before marriage
  • Inheritances received during the marriage
  • Gifts from people outside the marriage, given to only one spouse

Since these assets are not considered marital property, they are not subject to division in a divorce settlement.

Property Division Models

Generally, states use one of two models when dividing property in a divorce.

Equal Property Division

This model is based on the concept that marital assets are joint property. Under this system, the assets should be divided equally between both spouses. This division also applies to any debts incurred during the marriage.

Because this model relies on equality, keeping property often comes at a cost. For instance, if you keep the home, you will owe your spouse half of its value. Equal division can force people to sell or trade property to keep the split 50/50.

Equitable Property Division

This model divides based on fairness. Essentially, it involves examining all of the assets and dividing them in a way that is equitable to both parties. For instance, one spouse may make all the payments on a car, but the other is the primary user of that car. This primary user will probably be able to keep that car in a divorce.

Pennsylvania uses the equitable property division model.

Claiming Entitlement to Your Pet in a Divorce

Now, let’s look at how all of this information applies to you and your pets.

Regardless of your state’s property division model, you can claim entitlement to any property in your divorce. To do so, you must prove that you are the rightful owner.

When it comes to a pet, here are some claims you could make for entitlement:

  • Primary “User”
    Most pet-owner families will tell you that the animal tends to favor one person. It spends most of its time with them, follows them around the house, and so on. In turn, that owner tends to have a strong bond with the animal. You can use facts like these to make a case for sole ownership.
  • Primary Caretaker
    If you are the one who is mostly responsible for feeding, bathing, walking, veterinary care, etc., you may be able to claim the pet belongs to you.

Evidence you can use to claim entitlement to a pet:

  • Documentation that shows the pet is licensed and registered in your name
  • Veterinary records, showing that you took responsibility for most healthcare
  • Photographs or videos that display you as the primary caregiver for your pet

Special Considerations for Pets in a Divorce

In recent years, a growing number of courts are recognizing pets as more than just property. Pets have become important members of many families, providing emotional support and companionship.

As a result, more judges acknowledge the bond between pets and their owners, and many allow for pet custody schedules. These schedules can ensure that both parties continue to have access to their beloved companions, minimizing the distress that can result from a sudden separation. This approach is not universal, but it does open the door for people who do not want to completely lose contact with their furry friends.

Notaro Epstein Family Law Group, P.C. is here to make sure your divorce has a fair outcome. If you are worried about losing your pet or any other beloved property, contact us for a free consultation. You can use our online contact form or call us directly at (412) 281-1988.

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