Kevin Qualls Family Law
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Dealing with pet ownership during divorce

Separating spouses in California may expect to battle over certain aspects of their divorce, such as how to split up assets of a sizable value, like real property, investment accounts, retirement accounts and expensive collections. However, one aspect of the divorce that they may not anticipate arguing about in their divorce case is ownership of pets.

Research indicates that 62 percent of American households own at least one pet. Additionally, the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers reports that more disputes regarding family pets have emerged in the courtroom throughout recent years. While some individuals legitimately have a dispute regarding who the rightful owner of a family pet should be, other individuals attempt to take advantage of the closer emotional connection that his or her spouse has with the family pet in order to try to be granted an asset of more monetary value in exchange for the pet.

A prenuptial or postnuptial agreement may address ownership of the family pets. However, if a divorce is already in progress, a spouse may be able to present an argument to the court that can help convince it to award ownership of the pet to that spouse. This argument may address the opinion that it is best for the pet to stay with one spouse because his or her work schedule is better aligned with caring for a pet than a spouse who has a more demanding schedule.

A family law attorney could establish for the court whether a family pet is marital property or if it should be considered separate property, especially if the pet was owned by one of the spouses before the marriage. The attorney could also assert that one of the spouses was the primary caretaker of the pet, which should give that spouse more leverage in the proceedings.

Source: Forbes, "How Are Pets Handled In Divorce?", Jeff Landers, April 17, 2014

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