Couples undergoing the end of their marriage face many problems like child custody, support, and property division. The law, however, has not kept up with pets who are valued members of our families. Spouses must take steps to assure their pets well-being during divorce.
Pets are property
In Texas, the law treats the family pet like an inanimate piece of property. Because Texas is a community property state, the dog would go to the spouse who brought it to the marriage or who received the pet as a gift. Otherwise, it is property that must be allocated during the divorce.
It is unlikely the judge will decide custody based upon the spouse who had the best relationship with the pet. If the dog is community property, the judge may consider factors such as who paid the adoption fee or took care of most of the veterinary expenses.
Couples can agree to custody, pet care and other matters by entering a written agreement when they get the pet. It can serve as an insurance policy that they hope is never used.
The agreement can cover joint or sole custody, visitation and payment of food, veterinary care and pet sitting during vacations and travel.
When negotiating these agreements, couples should consider their work hours and travel schedules, which spouse had the dog first, whether the dog favors one spouse over the other, and whether there are multiple pets so each spouse can possess one. They should take into consideration whether there will be remarriages, new children and other things that will impact the dog.
If there is no prenuptial agreement, divorcing couples can also try address these matters as part of a settlement agreement for the court’ approval. These may be more difficult to negotiate because couples would need to cooperate and resolve matters during a stressful time.
The dog’s well-being
Like other members of the family, divorce may be tough on the dog because of changed routines, relocation, and stress. Divorce is one of the most common reasons owner rehome or give up their dogs, according to the ASPCA.
Agreements must put the pet’s best interest first. Pets should not be used as a negotiating tool or to torment the other spouse. An attorney can help prepare agreements and take other action to protect your rights and assure the pet’s interests.