Pet Custody During Divorce

It’s common procedure to split property and other assets during a divorce. But what about pets? Since we form emotional bonds with our dogs, cats, and other pets, this can feel different than dividing inanimate objects such as cars, jewelry, or real estate. In the eyes of the court, however, pets are considered personal property. In addition, in Washington state, courts and judges don’t like to address pet custody during divorce proceedings, so often it needs to be handled in another way. Generally, if the courts are asked to address pet custody, they will allow the pet to stay with whomever the pet is currently residing with as the status quo. So, if you want to keep the family pet, do not move out of the home with out them.

Outside of court, there are more options to decide where a pet will live going forward. Usually, if one person owned the pet prior to marriage, then the pet goes with that person following a divorce. However, if the pet joined the family after the marriage, then it’s considered community property, and this is where things can get complicated. 

In this case, if you and your ex-spouse can’t work out an arrangement on your own, your next best option is to hire a professional mediator or attorney to guide you to an agreement. Typical results from this approach are shared custody, one person purchasing the animal from the other, visitation rights, or similar options. During the process, the type of questions a mediator or attorney may ask include:

  • Who originally bought the pet?
  • How much is it worth?
  • Was the pet a gift?
  • Who spends more time with the animal?
  • Who is the primary caregiver?
  • Who is more emotionally attached to the pet?
  • Where does the pet currently live?
  • Who is better able to provide a suitable home and environment for the animal? 

If keeping your pet following a divorce is important to you, be prepared to answer the questions outlined above and gather documents such as vet records to back up your claims. 

If you have questions about pet custody during a divorce, or if you are considering divorce and would like to discuss all your options, please contact us at 253-844-4412 or via email for a consultation.

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