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Who keeps the family pet in a divorce?

There are few things more beloved for Alabama residents than the family pet. Whether it is a dog, cat or something more exotic, pets can quickly become a member of the family. Indeed, many individuals consider their pet to be almost like another child.

Despite these feelings equating a pet to a child, the law is not so clear on how to treat the family pet in the event the couple gets a divorce. Different courts have addressed the “custody” of the pet in different ways, with some analogizing it to child custody, and others considering it a matter of property division.

How courts approach the issue may well determine who gets to keep the pet. For instance, an Alabama judge on one occasion awarded custody of a family dog to one spouse after indicating it was in the dog’s best interest. This approach would be similar to how courts view child custody, which looks at what is in the best interests of the child. The court might look at issues such as who spent more time with the pet, who cared for it most and who provided for the pet’s needs.

Other courts have considered the pet to be like other marital property owned by the couple. In these cases, the court would attempt to give the pet to a spouse as a matter of equitable division of the couple’s property, along with all of their other assets. For instance, the value of the pet might come more into play in this case, both economically and as a matter of sentimental value.

Given the uncertainty in this area, individuals should consult a qualified divorce attorney to determine how their local courts might view the division of a pet. Armed with this knowledge, individuals can best determine how to keep their beloved pet.

Source: Pix 11, “Pup pre-nup: divorcing women in custody battle over family dog,” Alyssa Zauderer, Dec. 5, 2013