Pet Custody Laws

Individuals who can't decide who should possess custody of a pet after a divorce or separation could take the matter up in court. Pet custody issues are not only found in divorce cases, but also involving unmarried couples who've decided to go their separate ways.

In the past, custody laws and visitation rights were reserved solely for children; however, pet owners now are seeking such rights for their pets.


In some divorce cases or couple separations, the parties view the ownership of pets in the same light that they might view child custody rights. Traditionally, courts viewed pets as marital property and unlike children, where the court granted custody according to the child's best interests, pets were divided in the same manner as material possessions.

Ownership Rights

Usually a court grants ownership rights to the individual who was the primary caretaker of the animal or owned the pet prior to the relationship. If the separation involves a child, the parent who remains the main physical guardian of the child usually obtains custody of the pet for preserving the child's happiness or attachment with the pet.


Even though in most cases couples use the courts to decide who get ownership of pets, that determination is not necessarily decided by divorce courts. In some cases an individual can hire a lawyer to negotiate the terms of custody, ownership rights and visitation rights.


Civil suits have been commenced to seek custody of a pet, most often by individuals who were not married to one another, such as friends or family members living together. When civil suits arise for pet custody, courts evaluate the case in a manner similar to a child custody case, taking into consideration the pet's best interests as well as who is a better provider for the pet.


In order to prevent an expensive and emotionally draining ordeal over pet custody, whether before getting married or agreeing to live with someone for a certain period of time that would qualify those in the relationship to a division of assets, it is best to reach an agreement regarding pet custody in case of a separation. Even people living together as friends, family members or roommates should reach an agreement as to pet custody for when each the parties decide to go their separate ways.