Have you considered who gets custody of your pets? I recently reviewed a draft divorce decree where the family’s two dogs went with the children to either mom’s or dad’s house. I asked where the dogs would live once the children went to college. Stunned silence followed. Who would get custody of the dogs?
Pets are often part of the family so who gets custody of the family pets? Right now in Texas, a pet is considered property in a divorce, just like your couch or an IRA. As Robert Tier writes: “There is no requirement for any court to consider a party’s emotional attachment, and, at least in theory, a family court can order that a dog be sold, with the proceeds divided.”
In reality, a judge is probably not going to order a dog sold. (Maybe a cat….just kidding!) But how to handle where a beloved family pet lives can be a serious issue. Tier points out that laws in other states have begun to recognize that fact. The Vermont Supreme Court ruled recently that “family division may consider … the welfare of the animal and the emotional connection between the animal and each spouse.” Courts in Alabama, New York, and California have addressed similar issues.
Tier points out that dogs are already considered more than “mere property” under Texas law since harm to a dog (or any animal) is a criminal offense. But until Texas divorce law changes, make sure your decree provides a permanent home for your furry family members. Otherwise, you may be fighting over custody of the pets after your divorce is final!