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To divide assets, family pets often an issue

Thursday, July 27, 2017

A great deal is made of child custody in divorce situations, and rightly so. However, Texas residents who own pets may ask the question: what happens to a family pet in a divorce? Technically speaking, when asked to divide assets, a court will take the pet into consideration as an asset, which can be handled in a variety of ways. 

Obviously, most pet owners do not think of their pets as possessions, but rather as members of their family. The court sees things differently. In Texas, which is a community property state, all assets accrued during the marriage are typically split evenly between the divorcing couple. Of course, this is not feasible in the case of a pet. 

So far, joint custody of a pet is not a solution the law stands behind, particularly in cases where divorcing couples push for a custody-style hearing concerning their dog or cat. In some cases, the answer is clear-cut: if one spouse owned the pet prior to the marriage, ownership of the pet usually defaults to that individual. In other cases, it may be possible for one spouse to argue for ownership based on their own personal funds spent on the animal. However, in most cases, it is recommended that a divorcing couple seek mediation in determining where an animal will end up after the marriage is over. 

While this scenario likely does not apply to all Texas residents, the court will still divide assets accrued during a marriage. Whether this includes a pet or not, it is important for both parties to understand how asset division works in advance of filing for divorce. This can help avoid a drawn-out process and allow both individuals (as well as their pets) to move forward positively. 

Source: bloomberg.com, "In a Divorce, Who Gets to Keep the Family Dog?", Ben Steverman, April 29, 2016

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