Global Family Law Services

Property Division – Who Gets to Keep Rover?

| Aug 28, 2013 | Property Division

In the good old days, when a married couple decided to split, mom kept the house, the kids, and the family dog. These days, the division of property and parenting time is no longer black and white. Today, when there is a dispute as to who gets the house or the furnishings, the court considers many factors such as, who purchased the item, was the item a gift, was it inherited, which party is in a better position to maintain or afford it, etc. The value of the property is generally offset by cash or the division of other property to make the split equitable (legalese for “fair”). To illustrate, a court might order that the husband gets the TV and the wife gets the couch. With regard to dividing the time with the children, if there is a dispute the courts generally follow guidelines which attempt to assess the “best interest” (again legalese, but self-explanatory) of the child. But what happens to Rover?

Courts consider a dog, although a beloved family member, property. From a legal point of view a dog is no different from the living room couch. Of course, some families feel that their pet is another child, and in some cases the only child, which makes the concept of a dog as mere “property” hard to accept. Yet, the courts usually look at the family pet as property that needs to be allocated to one party or the other. Only in extremely unusual cases will a court order a visitation schedule for an animal. This is because the animal is not a child and state statutes consider a dog to be property. To determine who should get the dog post-divorce courts look to see who the dog is registered to, who purchased the dog, to whom the dog was gifted or to anything else that makes sense under the facts and circumstances of a particular case. This is the same process the Court uses to divide furnishings, bank accounts, and the wedding china.

If the parties can agree on a certain visitation schedule it is likely that a court will enforce that agreement. While a visitation schedule will allow for both parties to continue spending time with the pet, is such an arrangement really in everyone’s (including the pet’s) best interest? Are the strings that come with sharing a pet worth it for anyone involved? Although Rover is like the child you never had (or more loveable than the one(s) you do have), he is an animal. Bouncing back and forth between two households does not provide him with the stability that a domesticated animal needs. Also, a visitation schedule for a pet is for a very, very long time. There is no age of majority for a dog. Most people who have decided to live separate lives will not be able to sustain that sort of relationship with their ex for up to 20 years.

At Zashin & Rich, we have represented many clients who sought “custody” of the family pet. Determining who the rightful owner is can be an expensive process. In fact, we have had a committed pet owner who bought a new vehicle just to transport their dog back and forth. “Pet custody” cases are different from deciding who gets to keep a certain piece of property because many emotions come into play; somewhat like deciding who gets to keep a family heirloom. Parties must look at the cost of fighting to keep the pet compared to the value of the relationship with that pet. If a party decides that Rover is priceless, and he/she will pay whatever it takes to keep him, in legal fees alone Rover may end up being a very expensive pet indeed.