What happens with pets in a divorce?

Pets are personal property when it comes to divorce and Minnesota Law. It’s that simple.

But to us, our dogs, cats, and other pets are our four-legged children. They are our little humans. Our pets are spoiled over and over again. For many pet owners, it is hard to imagine Minnesota law not treating pets like people. The law treats pets as property the same as a truck, bank account, or kayak in a divorce.

Who gets the dog in a divorce?

That depends. Pets obtained during the marriage are equally owned by both spouses. The same proof of ownership may be helpful, but a court is likely not going to consider the documentation or information the same because pets obtained during the marriage are an asset of the marriage. A spouse wanting ownership of the pets may still want to try providing the following information to the judge which could include:

  • History of any actual or possible abuse to the pets
  • Veterinarian bills
  • Ownership, i.e. who signed the adoption or registration paperwork
  • Grooming and kenneling invoices

In Minnesota law, “who gets the dog” comes down to ownership. The spouse who owned the pets before the marriage is most likely going to claim ownership which can be shown through registration papers, receipts, or pictures.

Custody of Pets in Divorce

Judges really do not want to have to decide who should get custody of pets. They hope the couple can make that decision. One way to creatively decide “custody” of the couple’s pets is to create a custody agreement specifying who has the pets during the month. Some couples have a pet custody agreement that matches their parenting time schedule for their children. This way the children and the pets stay together.

Pet Custody Agreement

While a pet custody agreement can make sense, it is very important to keep in mind all the details that come with pet ownership. The couple needs to specifically lay out how they are going to address the following: 

  • Who pays for vet bills, licensing, food, and grooming costs. 
  • What happens if a pet develops a life-threatening illness? Who decides to treat the illness or put the pet down? 
  • Pet insurance coverage and cost may be an issue to consider. This sort of arrangement can be fraught with problems.

These real-world issues come into play when weighing if a pet custody agreement is feasible.

Adopt a New Pet

Divorce impacts who is going to have the pets in the end and it is a highly emotional issue for sure.  Another option to help heal those wounds is by adopting a new pet. There are wonderful animal shelters that have pets looking for a new forever home and this one would be all yours.

If you have questions about pet custody agreements or visitation schedules, consider contacting an experienced family law attorney Jessica L. Sterle at (218) 722-2655 to schedule a consultation.

Jessica Sterle

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