Over the years, pets have become more and more like family to couples without children. While our four-legged friends are definitely part of our hearts, where do they lie as part of a divorce decree if a marriage goes sour?
While our firm focuses on larger issues in a divorce like child custody, we thought we’d offer some free advice when it comes to handling your pet during a divorce.
IS THERE SUCH A THING AS “PET CUSTODY”?
Although some states have begun to stray closer to treating pets as a member of the family in the eyes of the law, Texas views pets as property. There simply is no official pet custody or visitation right in a Texas divorce, and all the court can do is award the pet to either the Wife or Husband as if it were a piece of furniture with no provisions for visitation.
HOW DO PARTIES GET PET VISITATION?
Although the Courts do not award visitation of parts as part of a judicial order, there is a possibility of arranging visitation through other methods. Quite often a shared visitation schedule is agreed to between the parties and their attorneys either through negotiations or more often at mediation.
Once agreed, any visitation can be converted into writing as an enforceable contractual agreement to be incorporated into the final divorce documents. So if you believe pet visitation is a genuine issue for you, make sure you discuss that with your attorney prior to property negotiations.
WHAT IF WE CAN’T AGREE ON PET VISITATIONS?
If your former spouse will not agree to share time with your pet, then be prepared to seek the pet as your sole property. Oftentimes, documentation can help. If you have adoption papers of vet records or other evidence that prove you adopted or owned the pet prior to the marriage then the Court can confirm the pet as your separate property.
Also, if you can prove that that pet was given to you by your spouse as a gift during the marriage the pet would go to you under separate property gift status as well. So, if you have Christmas or birthday cards indicating a gift make sure to share those with your attorney.
Finally, if you can not prove the pet is your separate property you can still seek the pet as a fair division of the community property. While there is no one real legal test here, the court can look at things such as fault in the marriage breakup in determining what is fair.
Also, if children are involved who are attached to the pet, It can be argued that possession of the pet can should follow primary custody of the children as the fairest thing to do.
SETTLE THE LARGER DIVORCE ISSUES WITH MARX, ALTMAN & JOHNSON
When you work with Marx, Altman & Johnson to settle the terms of your divorce, you have the legal expertise on your side to make the right decisions for your family. We help you work through the tough negotiations so you have time to focus on keeping your family and your pets as comfortable as possible during the divorce process.
If you know you’re ready to file for divorce, get an experienced family law attorney to fight for what’s yours. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.