Who Gets Custody of the Family Pet After Separation?

Posted by Jonathan Jerkins | Oct 18, 2017 | 0 Comments

Many people consider their pets to be part of the family. This can create problems after a divorce or separation when deciding who will get custody of the family pet. However, under North Carolina family law, pets are still treated like other household property. This leaves many families wondering who will get custody of the family pet after separation.

Pets are an important part of everyday life for many of us. Disputes over the custody of a family dog, cat, or other pet are becoming increasingly common in North Carolina and across the country. Some states are even adopting laws to deal with pet custody issues. In North Carolina, family courts have been trying to find a way to deal with unique problems of pet custody after divorce.

North Carolina is considered an “equitable distribution” state. This means that after a divorce, all property of the marriage is to be split equitably between the spouses. Property is classified as separate, marital, or divisible. In a divorce, all marital property is valued and divided between the spouses, including pets.

Of course, pets are not the same as other types of household property. Anyone who has lost a childhood cat or dog understands that the pet is not so easily replaced by going to the pet store. The family puts time and energy into caring for the animal, as well as training, feeding, and cleaning up after the pet. In return, the pet offers affection, companionship, and protection, which cannot be put into a dollar value.

If a pet was owned by one spouse before the marriage, then the pet will generally be considered separate property of that spouse. However, if the couple got the pet together, then the animal may be considered marital property, subject to a custody determination by the court.

In most cases, it is better for all parties involved for the divorcing couple to decide who will care for the animal after separation. This generally involves agreeing to give one spouse full custody and control of the pet. However, some couples may divide custody of the pet, or even set up visiting schedules, similar to child custody arrangements.

Unfortunately, in a hostile divorce, it may be difficult for the individuals to agree on anything, let alone custody of a beloved family pet. It can be even more complicated when the family still has young children who cannot bear to be separated from their family pet.

Animal Custody and Domestic Abuse

One area where there is a state law for pet custody involves domestic violence. Under North Carolina Statute § 50B-3(a)(8)3, a protective order in a domestic abuse case may “provide for possession of personal property of the parties, including the care, custody, and control of any animal owned, possessed, kept, or held as a pet by either party or minor child residing in the household.”

Jerkins Family Law

If you have questions about custody of a family pet after a divorce, please do not hesitate to call Jerkins Family Law for assistance. JFL is committed to providing the passionate representation you and your family need. We can help make sure your entire family, including pets, are properly protected after a divorce or separation. Visit our dedicated divorce page and contact us today so we can guide you to a better solution.

About the Author

Jonathan Jerkins

Jonathan "Jay" Jerkins, a native of Raleigh, North Carolina, intentionally focuses his practice on all aspects of North Carolina family law litigation and negotiations. Jay was admitted to the practice of law in North Carolina in 2014.


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