Who Gets Custody of the Pets After a Divorce?

How do you determine who owns a pet? How to decide who gets the pet after a divorce? Who keeps the pets when a couple breaks up? What questions can couples ask to help decide who should keep the pets? Who keeps the pets? In a divorce who is the bette

As bad as it is when people fight over who gets the kids, they also fight about who gets the pet. In some cases it is fairly easy, one person cannot have pets where they live. In other cases the pet is legally listed as being owned by one person or the other. The registration papers list one person as the owner. Case closed.

Ideally couples will be mature enough to decide between themselves who is the best owner. Unfortunately, this often becomes a competition with people fighting for a pet they may not have given any attention to in the past. Soon both parties are fighting for their rights to keep the pet, or pets. Tempers soar and ultimately the pet may not end up in the right home. In some cases couples even go to court to battle for their rights to keep the pet.

Which Came First?

If a person can prove they owned the pet prior to the start of a relationship, they are considered the legal owner of that pet. In many cases it is easy to prove that a person owned a pet first, so there is no further issue. Unless the other person can prove that the original owner is unfit to keep a pet, chances are the pet will remain in the care of the person who acquired it before the relationship.

Just the Facts

  • Who purchased the pet? Most shelters and reputable breeders do not accept people who are going to give the pet as a gift. Therefore the name on the application and contract is who they would deem as the owner of the pet. All too often people use the excuse that a pet was a gift. Proving this is a different story. If a pet really was a gift, given to a person, the person who received the pet as a gift should have their name on all other future documentation; vet records, registration, licensing, etc. (see below).
  • Whose name is on the registration papers? Not all pets are registered, but for those that are, the name on the registration papers is held pretty much the undisputed owner.
  • Who took the pet to the vet? Basically whose name appears on the pets vaccination and veterinary records as the owner? If the pet is not registered and there were no contracts signed when the pet was acquired, this documentation might indicate who the owner of the pet is.
  • Does the pet have a license? Again whose name is listed as the owner on the city license. Normally if the pet were impounded this person is saying they accept responsibly and ownership of the pet.
  • Whose name is linked to the pets identification? In addition to a city license many owners have their pets microchipped or tattooed. If somebody where to find the pet and trace it via this identification, whose name was the one the pet is listed as being owned by.

Photo by Author, this poor cat was one that was left behind when his owners got divorced and moved out. 

Who is the Better Owner?

  • Never mind whose name is on what papers, people who really care about a pet will want it to reside in which ever home is the best. Cats bond to places, dogs bond to people. As such a cat might be happiest remaining with the person who retains the home.
  • Dogs thrive on companionship and attention. A dog might be best suited in the home of the person who has the most time to devote to attending to their needs for mental stimulation and activity level.
  • Horses and other big animals require on going expensive care. Finances are important in deciding which home is better for any pet, but especially so for deciding who should get the big pets.
  • A pet with a costly medical condition, such as diabetes, should be placed in the home best equipped to deal with it.

Couples should put aside their selfish reasons for wanting the pet. Pet custody should not be viewed as a contest. A pet is a living being, its life will be affected by end decision, good or bad.


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Donald Pennington
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Posted on Nov 28, 2009
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Posted on Oct 23, 2009