Divorce & Pets: Who Gets Mittens?


“Who gets the family bible, when blood is split at heart?”

Well, the jury is still out on that age old, country & western themed question posed by Merle Haggard.  We have, however, collected a few intriguing facts to help provide answers to the current query of ‘Who retains “custody” of a divorced couple’s pets?’

While animals are deemed “personal property” in the eyes of The Law, many couples who are dissolving their marriages handle their pets more akin to their offspring.  Custody, visitation rights, and even pet-imony (aka: pet support) are all issues that are popping up in divorce courts throughout America with increasing regularity.  As with many issues in the realm of divorce legalities, laws governing property vary from state to state.  In some states a dog may be classified as “community property,” meaning it belongs to both parties (split right down the middle, 50/50), and in other states, Fido falls under “separate property,” and one party assumes full ownership.  Yet unlike monetary assets (which while often are difficult to determine who is entitled to what exactly, they can still be divided up), pets simply can not be cut in half…  They obviously can carry significantly more emotional weight as well, than say, an armoire or a jet ski (well, that’s actually debatable, as some people really adore their jet skis).  Since neither party is often willing to say farewell to their furry (or feathery …or slithery) friend forever, actual regimented custody schedules must be hammered out and agreed to in a court of law.

As pet-related issues become more commonplace in divorce proceedings, some have even taken to including stipulations regarding pet rules in their prenuptial agreements.


All over the country, divorce pets have made headlines.  Divorcesource.com reported that “In 2001, a woman in Texas was sentenced to 30 days in jail for refusing several orders from a judge to turn over the two cats her former husband was awarded in the divorce case.” On the west coast, it appeared as if money was not an object when it came to the ownership of one particular canine: “In San Diego County, California a couple waged a two-year battle over their dog, which wound up costing over $146,000.”  Back in the lone star state…things got a little weird, to say the least: “In Dallas, Texas a couple spent $16,000 in lawyer fees fighting over their dog. After the husband “dog napped” the animal for nine days, the wife now gets custody and he gets visitation.”  It seems that people will truly go to extremes to get what they want in terms of showcasing pet devotion and commitment – debatable whether this amount of effort went into some marriages.


When regular people are experiencing lifestyle trends en masse, celebrities usually dive in headfirst and undertake them tenfold.  The huffingtonpost.com provided scintillating info on several spotlight hogging couples who battled it out in court for their pets.  These include, but aren’t limited to: Britney and K-Fed (who bitterly fought over 2 pups), Drew Barrymore and Tom Green (clashed over a yellow lab named “Flossie,” who incidentally saved the couple from a fire), and Tiger Woods and Elin Nordegren (whose legal dogs were unleashed on each other in a vicious fight over a whole pack of actual dogs).


Aside from the obvious intense feelings people may be experiencing during divorce, some experts claim that pets suffer through them as well. Healthypets.mercola.com posits that “pets need consistency – especially during and after a family breakup.”  Many judges will take this into consideration when deciding who will provide the best and most stable environment for the animal in question in a post-divorce situation.

Whether you stand on two legs or four, divorce will always be a ruff (*pardon, “rough”) thing to go through.  Hopefully divorce proceedings can be handled as delicately as possible and both human and animal justice will be served.  In the end, no matter who ends up with which pet, if everyone humanely considers their well being, then tails will still be able to wag through the hard times.


-Joe Leone

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