Pet Custody Cases Up



It’s a sad truth, but the reality is, 50% of marriages end in divorce. Along with divorce, comes the family members caught in the cross-fire and the latest evidence of this is a marked increase in custody battles over family pets.

Here’s some information about this startling trend along with some things to mull over should you find yourself in this type of situation.

Is Spot Property or Family?

As the numbers of pet custody cases rise – up 27% in the past 5 years according to a study done by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers – so must the skill levels of divorce and custody attorneys with these issues.

And while you think Spot is part of the family and should be treated with the same inherent rights as your 10-year-old daughter, the law sees the dog as property to be divvied up in a divorce battle.

But will that continue?

The American Legal Defense Fund cites the following statistics gleaned from studies and reports:

  • Americans proudly support one pet per two citizens
  • As many as 45% of dog owners take their canines on vacation
  • 50% of pet owners claim they would put their lives on the line to save Spot

So why have courts refused to move off their attitudes that pets are no more than personal property? Thankfully, that’s changing.

The Best Interests of the Pet

The good news is that many courts, when faced with a custody struggle involving Spot, are looking to the type of standard that they’ve applied in child custody battles: The best interest doctrine.

For decades, courts have looked at the best interests of the child when deciding who a kid should live with and that standard is coming into play with pets.

As an example, the Supreme Court in Alaska in 2002 upheld the trial court’s decision to give the family Lab to the husband because other dogs in the wife’s household made it an unsafe place for the Lab to live.

What Courts Look At

If you find yourself in a pet custody situation and your lawyer asks you for some proof to help with your case, think about these things:

  • Who usually takes care of Spot? Who feeds him, walks him, plays with him and takes him for vet visits?
  • Do you take care of making sure his shots are up to date and that he has the appropriate licenses?
  • Who can take care of Spot the best and where is he likely to be happiest?

What Happens If You Can’t Decide?

Courts have been known to award visitation and even alimony to the non-pet spouse in a divorce case. Sometimes the alimony isn’t in the form of money but, rather, food and sharing of pet expenses.

Is There a Way to Prevent This?

Besides not getting divorced? Yes, there is.

You can create a pet prenup agreement and can even find those forms on sites like But what’s in it and why should you bother?

A pet prenup gives you a roadmap to follow in case a separation and divorce happens. It’s an agreement done prior to the marriage and could save the stress of heartache and loss.

Should you find yourself in the throes of divorce and want to keep your pet, contact a matrimonial lawyer who does these types of cases for the best outcome.

Reference links:

Image: iStock


WagBrag’s co-founder, Russ Boles, has a deep history in animal rescue and welfare. For the past 12 years, Russ has served in various roles with Atlanta-based animal advocacy organizations focused on rescue, training and education. In addition, Russ led a local rescue volunteer team into New Orleans immediately after Hurricane Katrina, assisting in efforts to rescue and care for stranded animals. This experience changed his life, and animal rescue and advocacy will always be a part of everything he does.