Our pets are often beloved members of our family, but legally, our four-legged friends are considered property in the State of Texas. This can lead to some serious stress and conflict if you and your spouse end your marriage. Fortunately, many judges are pet owners themselves or understand the deep ties you may have with your pet, so they may be willing to consider your pet’s custody more carefully and rule in favor of the pet’s best interests. Here are some things you should know about pet custody during a Texas divorce.
Write Down Your Custodial Wishes for Your Pet
If you can’t stand the thought of your pet leaving your side, you may want to write down your wishes for their custody. This information can be included in a prenuptial agreement, cohabitation agreement, or partition agreement. If you’ve already married, a postnuptial agreement can also help.
In child custody cases, the judge will always consider the best interests of the child over the parents’ desires. When it comes to pet custody, however, the law only allows for pets to be treated as property. The judge will need to first determine whether the pet is separate property, belonging to one spouse, or marital property, belonging to both spouses.
If the pet was purchased or adopted before the marriage, it is likely to be considered separate property, and custody will be awarded to the owning spouse. If the pet was gained during the course of the marriage, the pet will be considered community property, and the custody of the pet will need to be determined with the rest of the marriage’s assets and property. If this is the case, the judge is likely to evaluate the roles both spouses play in caring for the pet and obtaining the pet.
What Factors Will Judges Use to Decide Custody?
As with any complex property settlement case, the judge will need to determine the animal’s status as community or separate property before proceeding. If the pet is community property, the judge will delve deeper into the matter. Here are some things judges may consider to determine which spouse is better prepared to care for the pet:
- Which spouse has been the primary caretaker?
- Which spouse meets the daily needs of the pet?
- Has either spouse neglected or abuse the pet in any way?
- Which spouse has the more pet-friendly work and travel schedule?
- What are the custody arrangements for any children, and are they close to the pet?
The judge will strive to place the pet in the best household, where its needs will be met properly. If the children of the divorcing couple share a bond with the pet, the judge is likely to place the pet with the spouse who has primary custody of the children.
If there is more than one pet in a divorce, there is a good chance that the judge will split up the pets and award each pet to the spouse who is better equipped to prepare for that pet. Dogs may be awarded to the spouse who will be home more often, while a cat may be given to the spouse who works more or travels more.
The judge will not award a visitation schedule for your pet. Unlike your human children, your fur-children cannot legally have a binding visitation agreement determined by a judge. What a judge can do, however, is enforce any arrangements that the spouses can agree upon. Explicit terms spelled out in an agreement, such as a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement, can help simplify these issues.
How You Can Protect Your Custody
It can be stressful if you are unsure of your pet’s fate. Laying out your wishes in another agreement, such as a prenuptial agreement, can help simplify these matters. If you don’t have such agreements in place, you’ll need to take steps to prove you are the spouse who should have continued custody of the animal.
You will need to provide evidence that demonstrates your commitment to the animal or animals in your household. This evidence can include:
- A pet license or adoption application with your signature
- An affidavit from your veterinarian that states you are the person who tends to the pet’s medical needs
- Receipts from pet supply stores, grooming, and other pet services with your payment information.
- Witness statements from neighbors, other dog-park visitors, or friends who can speak to your dedication to your pet’s care and wellbeing.
Contact Our Katy Divorce Attorney – (281) 764-6087
If you’re facing a divorce, you shouldn’t face it alone. At the Adams Law Firm, we’re committed to supporting our clients in every way possible through the divorce process. Our Katy divorce attorneys have more than 35 years of experience under our belts, so you can trust that we’re ready to assist you with your divorce case—no matter how complex.