Providing Comprehensive, Hands-On Legal Help When You Need It

Who gets Fido? Pet custody in divorce cases

Many people consider pets more than just personal property: They are family members. This can turn problematic in a divorce. Most states, including Delaware, currently consider pets personal property in divorce cases. However, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts, more states are considering laws like those recently passed in Alaska, Illinois and California, that outline more specific pet custody laws.

Even in states where there are currently no laws outlining special treatment of pets in a divorce, many judges have to decide on pet custody when faced with a dispute.

Is pet custody really an issue?

There has been an increase in pet custody hearings over the years. Most disputes involve dogs, with cats coming in second. There are records of other disputed pet custody hearings, including horses, birds, reptiles and more. According to Psychology Today, in 38% of cases involving divorcing dog owners, neither spouse wanted to give up ownership of the animal. Since most states view pets as property, only ownership and monetary value come into consideration. In some cases, judges have to get creative when the law does not outline any kind of pet custody.

What may a judge take into consideration?

If divorcing parties cannot come up with a solution for pet custody during the proceedings, a judge may have to make the final decision. Records show that judges often apply some of the same logic to pet custody cases as they do child custody cases, taking into consideration what might be best for the animal or which partner the pet seems to prefer. There is precedent for offering joint custody of the animal or even visitation rights to the spouse not given custody. What seems clear is that in a pet custody case, most judges understand that a pet is not really the same as a table or chair, and custody of the animal deserves greater consideration.