Who gets the kids? The house? The car? And…the dog? For over 70% of pet owners, our animals are considered to be part of the family. So it’s natural to assume that if the family separates, that the pets will be part of custody hearings. 

Research shows that in 38% of divorce proceedings, neither party wants to give up their four legged “children.” Because the law views pets as property, just as furniture or real estate, this has caused a legal crisis which begs the question: who gets the pets in a divorce?

Times, They Are A-Changin’

It’s likely that the case of who gets the pets in a divorce would be up to the interpretation of the individual judge. Although the laws in Texas primarily consider pets to be nothing more than property, in certain states the laws are being challenged and updated.  

As of January 1, 2019, in California a bill went into effect that requires the court to take into account who cares for the pet, shelters it, and spends time with it. This precedent sets the standard that the well being of the animal should be taken into account when deciding who gets the pets in a divorce or breakup. However these proceedings can take days (and countless dollars in attorney fees) to work out. 

The Law

Texas is a community property rate, meaning that debts and assets acquired during the marriage are usually split 50/50. In this arena, except in cases where cruelty can be shown, it is usually proof of ownership that almost always determines the custody of the family pet. 

To determine proof of ownership, a judge will look at the following: 

Registration and license. The most important document the court will look at is who signed the licensing documents and paid the associated local licensing fees. Your signature on the registration form carries weight.

Veterinary records. At your pet’s first veterinary exam, you were asked to name the pet’s owner on the client registration form. If you placed both names on the form, it shows that both parties take an interest in the well being of the pet.

Microchip records. Microchipping (one of the smartest things a pet owner can do!) also shows a record of ownership. 

Pedigree registries. If a couple has a purebred pet, that pet can be listed in the breed registry and both parties can be listed as owners. 

Pets In A Divorce: Heads and Hearts

When you begin a new relationship, there’s usually not much thought to how or if things will end. So when a breakup occurs, the question of pet custody has probably not been at the forefront. 

In every relationship breakup, human well-being is absolutely the first priority, but it’s smart to consider the well-being of our pets should things not work out. It’s also important to consider what our responsibility is to our four legged family members when our own lives are in a state of transition.
If you have questions or concerns about pets in a divorce or breakup, please reach out to your team at Leon Valley Veterinary Hospital. We are here for you.