Elise Buie Family Law | Who Gets The Pets After Divorce?

When parents go through a divorce, child custody can be one of the hardest issues to deal with. Whether to consider joint custody or shared custody, and how to handle decision-making for the child’s best interest going forward can create real problems. But increasingly in American households, pets are part of the family, and separating can create similar concerns over who gets the family pet.


In Washington State, pets are considered property. The decision of where the pet dog or cat goes after divorce is up to the individual spouses to determine, and not a matter for the court. If one of the spouses had the pet before the marriage, in most cases that would leave them with the pet after divorce. However, if the couple adopted the animal after getting married, then the pet would be considered community property, and treated as the equal property of both people.


However, more and more states are seeing an increasing concern over the the roles pets play in our families and our everyday lives. After divorce, couples may even set up visiting schedules, or shared custody of pets, similarly to how divorced couples make arrangements with their children. Divorcing couples with both children and pets often see the pets going where the children go, or even mirroring the joint or shared custody situation set up for the children. In most cases, the more fervent battles over pet custody involve couples without children.


Even celebrity couples such as Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas have reportedly fought over who gets their three dogs. For most couples planning to get married, divorce is not on their mind at the time they are planning to spend the rest of their lives together. Even for those planning for the possibility of separating, when thinking of a prenuptial agreement, they may not consider how a pet may factor into the separation. Now, family law attorneys are seeing an increase in pet prenups. This could clear up issues of who gets to keep the pets after a divorce, but may not make separation from the loving animals any easier.


Because of the increased consideration for the welfare of animals in our society, we may see changes to state and federal law in the future. Washington does not yet have a specific law related to pet custody, but other states have begun introducing bills to address the issue. In Alaska, state representative Liz Vazquez has introduced just such a bill. The proposed bill would give the court the ability to decide where the pet goes after divorce, with considerations given to what would be best for the individual pet. The bill would also address who gets custody of the animal in cases of domestic violence.


Even other countries, such as Australia, have animal rights advocates pushing for stronger legal protections for pets. Such laws may also help to reduce the tensions and filing of lawsuits over pets between divorcing couples. With or without laws to address the issue, as with children, pets can become a focus of divorce. Like with children, when it comes to deciding their future, the focus should be on what’s best for the pet.

STAY UP TO DATE

Subscribe to our newsletters

 
Subscribe to one or more of our newsletters, delivering meaningful insight on topics that matter to you and your family.

FURTHER READING

Latest Blog Posts

Death is a part of life. Like taxes, there's no avoiding it. Also, like taxes, you may not like thinking or talking about the subject. However, if you think about death and how to handle your remains from a planning…

Every child deserves love, stability, and consistency. Is there a child in your life that you have considered adopting, perhaps because they are the child of your spouse or a child you are fostering? Perhaps there is an adult in…

The thought of losing your home or its contents in a disaster is a scary thought. Loss of life, destruction of irreplaceable items such as home movies, photos, and heirlooms make it unconscionable. But as we know in life, sometimes…

Spoiler alert: If you’re doing everything around the house (or at work) because you’re living (working) with a bunch of incompetent fools, or so they’ve led you to believe they are, you’re being manipulated. So pervasive is this phenomenon, there’s…

If you've created an estate plan, you've already spent a good deal of time thinking about what will happen to you if you become sick, incapacitated, or die, including where you will go (literally) when you die. After all, you don't want your…

If you're 18 or older and live in Washington State, you can legally change your name to anything you want as long as you're not doing so to commit fraud. For example, if your goal is to change your name to evade…

Your estate plan should ensure your special needs child experiences the best quality of life they can, that the assets upon which they will rely will last as long as possible during their lifetime, and that their eligibility for public services will be maximized. Learn more.

Popular culture is using the moniker "America's daughter" to describe Gabby Petito because she could've been any of our daughters. Learn how to talk to your daughter about the signs of domestic abuse.

When a couple decides to divorce, and one spouse is unable to support themselves, spousal support becomes a hot-button issue. Learn how to mitigate conflict and move forward.

To date, 676,000 people in the US have died from COVID-19, many parents of minor children. Without a will there is no instruction on who should care for them. Make your wishes known, learn how.