More courts deciding pet custody cases

When a couple divorces, there are many important and complex questions that must be addressed. Who will get primary custody of the kids? What will the visitation schedule look like? How much child support will a spouse have to pay? How much alimony is a spouse entitled to receive? Who gets the house?

As you can see, the list of questions can get very long in a very short amount of time. Interestingly enough, however, more and more divorcing couples are adding another question to this list: who will get custody of the family pet?

According to a 2006 survey performed by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML), 25 percent of member attorneys indicated that they had seen a notable uptick in the number of pet custody cases since 2001. In fact, AAML President Ken Altshuler has indicated that a new survey would more than likely show that this number has gotten even higher over the last six years.

The reason?

Interestingly, divorce attorneys indicate that the growing number of civil unions, domestic partnerships and same-sex marriages has played a large part in the rising number of pet custody cases.

While we tend to think of our pets — dogs, cats, birds, etc. — as members of the family, the law doesn’t quite share the same view. In fact, the law in all 50 states treats pets as property subject to division.

However, judges have gradually become more aware of the special role played by pets in many families and the need to hand the matter with some degree of consideration.

“Judges are viewing [pets as] more akin to children than dining room sets,” said Altshuler. “They are recognizing that people have an emotional attachment to their animals.”

Some legal experts are even predicting that state laws concerning pets will change over the course of time, such that guidelines — akin to those for deciding child custody — will be established for judges.

Stay tuned for more from our Ft. Worth family law blog …

To learn more about divorce or property division, contact an experienced and skilled legal professional.

This post is for informational purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice.


The Boston Globe, “Divorce lawyers: Pet custody cases increasing” Feb. 28, 2012