What Happens to Your Animals During a Divorce?

Pets are important members of our families. However, in the midst of a divorce, pets can become a point of emotional contention and frustration for one or both of you. We’ve put together a guide on what to expect and how to plan for discussions about animals during a divorce.

What to Do If Your Animals are Family Pets

In the U.S. today, couples are as likely to share pets as children, so family lawyers have become increasingly familiar with the process of splitting family pets during the divorce process. When you are ready and wanting to keep and care for the pet you’ve shared with your spouse, you should start by getting your paperwork together. This should include things like when was the pet adopted/bought, if the pet was brought into the family before or after finalizing the marriage, who (if only one of you) has been paying the vet bills, etc. These things will help build your case for why you should keep your pet over your partner.

Does the Breed of Your Pet Matter?

While it may be shocking to your sense of fairness and affections, animals are legally considered property in the same way a car, a desk or anything else is. As such, the breed of your animal may play something of a part in your divorce. When a pet is involved, a court will place a monetary value on the pet that may be dependent upon the fair market value of the pet. While it’s difficult to detach yourself from the emotional connection you have with your pet and consider their dollar value, it’s important to look into. For example, purebred dogs may have a higher value, and once the court has this number, they may order the individual keeping the pet to reimburse the other accordingly.

Additionally, if you and your partner adopted or bought a breed of dog or an exotic pet that is known to have unique needs or more frequent issues with their health, the court may take this into consideration. In these situations, the court may grant ownership of the pet to the partner most likely to be able to afford the high or frequent vet or pet-related bills.

When Child Custody is Involved

If you and your former partner shared children together, then your divorce will also require a parenting plan and a custody schedule. The court involved will always aim to do what is in the best interest of the children, so if a pet is important to one or more children, it is relevant to the court whether the person with custody of the children will also keep the pets due to the comfort and stability they can provide to children during this stressful time in their lives.

When the Pet’s Needs Must Come First

The court may consider a pet’s needs in order to determine who will retain ownership. As noted above, however, pets are property with a monetary value. Who retains ownership of the pet typically need only pay the value to the other party. In the event an agreement in this manner can’t be reached, the Court could decide who keeps the pet and issues regarding who can best care for the pet become relevant. This can include anything from a medical condition that warrants it’s need to stay with the partner that has cared for it most, to an illness that requires the pet stay in the family home to avoid further complications.

What If Your Animals Are Related to a Family Business?

If the animals shared between you and your partner were also part of a family business, like a farm, breeding business, or something similar, then the court will move past the intricate emotional aspect of your divorce and more at the concrete, financial territory involved. If one person is going to maintain operation of the business while the other plans on relinquishing or selling their ownership, then the continuous business owner is more likely to maintain ownership and responsibility over the animals involved. This is because the animals directly affect the operation and viability of the business.

It’s easy to focus on the emotional attachment you shared with your pet, so you deserve a lawyer that will fight for you to retain ownership during your divorce. At the Law Office of Dorene A. Kuffer, our understanding family law team will help with your case and work toward a resolution for both you and any pets involved. Contact us today to chat with one of our lawyers and get the support you need moving forward.


  1. AVMA, U.S. pet ownership statistics. 2017-2018.
    1. https://www.avma.org/resources-tools/reports-statistics/us-pet-ownership-statistics 
  2. U.S. Census Bureau, Families and Living Arrangements. 2021.
    1. https://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2021/families-and-living-arrangements.html