Courts generally consider family pets as property, not children who merit custody or visitation orders.
Divorcing pet owners do not face a drawn-out custody battle over an animal, but they can make certain requests to meet their needs and protect the best interests of the pet. In deciding this, a judge may consider which spouse spends the most time with the animal, who is responsible for vet visits and costs of care, and who brought the pet into the relationship.
In a divorce, dogs, cats and other animals are personal property awarded based on state laws of distribution. In many states, property is divided based on equitable distribution. Property held individually prior to the marriage is considered separate; property acquired during the marriage is marital.
In some cases, third-party advocates make requests on behalf of the animal. These requests focus on the best interests of the pet, rather than simply considering it property. Identifying the best interests of a pet in a property division case ensures that it is properly cared for after a divorce is finalized.