women with her dog

Can I Keep My Pet in a Divorce?

To pet owners, their furry companions are far more than just animals. They become permanent family members. This fact creates grief in a divorce. Losing your dog or cat can add extra layers to the grief you’re already experiencing from losing the marriage. In some cases, people even attempt to secure visiting rights for pets.

Usually, only one person can keep an animal. If you’re concerned about whether you will lose your pet in a divorce, here are some facts to remember.

Pets Are Property

You love your pet, and you view them as a friend. The law, however, views it as just an animal. Therefore, it also classifies your pet as a piece of property.

As such, it will treat the animal like any other property in the divorce. In an equitable property division state like New York, the court tries to give property to the person who deserves it most.

In other states that use the community property division system, the most deserving spouse will keep the animal, but they will owe the other spouse half its value. They can pay the other spouse directly or give them property equal to the value they owe. An animal’s value will depend on what kind of animal it is, its breed, its age, and so on.

You Must Prove Entitlement to Keep Property

To keep physical property after a divorce, you must prove that you are entitled to that property. This means that you are the primary user of that property. It could also mean that you were the primary contributor to that property.

When it comes to pets, entitlement goes far beyond who directly purchased the animal. Generally, anything you purchase during a marriage becomes marital property, co-owned by each spouse.

Imagine your spouse came home one day with a new puppy. At first, they believed it would be “their” dog. Over time, however, the dog attaches itself to you, and you return that affection. It follows you around the house, and you take it along on all your errands. Eventually, you manage all of its cleaning, walks, vet visits, and so on. Everyone in the house openly regards the dog as “yours,” even though that was not the original intent.

After the divorce, the fairest solution would be for you to keep this dog.

How to Prove Entitlement to Your Pet in a Divorce

Like any other legal concern, you must build a case to prove your claim. This involves gathering evidence, calling on witnesses, and so on.

Take the above example about the puppy. You could use witnesses who can testify to your close relationship with the dog. Documentation can help, too. You can produce receipts showing that you primarily took the dog to the vet, groomer, etc.

Finally, you need a good attorney who can gather all this information and argue for you. Lawyers do more than present facts. They also weave these facts into a narrative. The evidence tells a story that is easy to see and understand. When you must fight for your property, an attorney’s help will be invaluable.

Ultimately, you can keep your pets after a divorce, as long as you prove your entitlement to them.

If you’re concerned about keeping a pet or any other property in a divorce, our firm can help. You can schedule a free consultation with us online, or you can call us now at (516) 514-3868.