A topic that comes up for many couples in divorce proceedings, but is not often tackled in the news or pop culture, is that of pet visitation. Although it may not seem like a significant factor in the overall picture of divorce, pet visitation can actually become a rather contentious point between ex-spouses.

If you and your spouse have a pet(s) and are facing a difficult divorce, it may be an uphill battle to decide who gets to “keep” the pet, as well as if the spouse without the pet can continue to see the pet. Understanding more about this often-overlooked factor in divorces can help you prepare to face this situation with a well-thought-out strategy.

Pets and divorce

One of the first points to clearly understand when it comes to pets and divorce is that the legal system does not treat pets as if they are members of the family or the same way it treats children. The courts consider pets as property, and while it may sound like a heartless designation to the pet owner to lump a beloved dog into the same category as the furniture and vehicles, this is the legal reality.

Pet visitation

Courts do not typically grant visitation rights for pets as they do with children. While courts do recognize the right of both parents to spend time with their children, this same principle does not apply when it comes to domestic animals. Since the court views pets as property, they fall under the same general principles as other assets in a divorce. This can be particularly troublesome in community property states like California, which recognize that assets a couple acquires during their marriage belong to both spouses. 

The best way to approach a pet custody issue during a divorce is to ask your family law attorney for advice about how to proceed. In some cases, both spouses may agree on who can keep the pet, and pet visitation may not be an issue. In situations where both spouses want to keep the pet, a judge may ultimately have to make the final decision about who the animal lives with.