Three Tips on Handling Pet Custody in a Divorce


By Steven J. Mandel

The legal, emotional, psychological, financial, and familial challenges divorce brings to an individual and a family is not only immense, but they are also long-lasting and widespread. One area of life that divorce impacts, in a shocking way, is pet parenting.

Pets are a joyful part of life, and often times a couple in the midst of a divorce may fail to realize how complicated the joy of pet parenting will be when deciding who will get to be the custodial “parent” of the beloved pet.

To most people, pets are more than property, they’re members of the family. However, in the eyes of the law, pets are treated as a possession, much like a car or piece of furniture.     When judges have written on this topic, many have acknowledged the important role pets play in our lives. That being said, courts are currently unwilling to put animals in the same category as children, and as such do not make determinations based upon the best interest of the pet.

 Pet custody cases are extremely difficult because of the emotional components. Sometimes a pet may be given as a gift to soften the blow of an unfortunate event.  In this instance, the connection between a party and the pet may be wrapped up in several other emotional factors.   

Here are some tips to take into consideration to avoid as many headaches as possible in a pet custody dispute:

  1. Consider finding an attorney to help negotiate a pet custody agreement as soon as the animal is brought into your home.
  2. Take time to document how the pet joined your family. Did you or spouse adopt it? Was it purchased from a pet store? Whose name is on the bill of sale, adoption papers and license? Who is primarily responsible for taking the animal to the vet or groomer and paying all the related expenses?  Who spends the most time with the pet and is primarily responsible for the animal’s day-to-day care? 
  3. Take into consideration the best living arrangement for the pet. If one parent has primary custody of the children, how will that play a role? If one pet parent lives in an apartment in a city and the other in a house in the suburbs, will that matter?

While the courts may not currently recognize the pet’s best interest, pet parents should take this into consideration when determining where this furry family member should end up after a divorce.

About Steven J. Mandel

Steven J. Mandel is a New York family and divorce attorney who was selected as a “Top 100 Lawyer in the United States,” a “Super Lawyer” and the co-chair of the New York County Bar Association’s Matrimonial Section.  For almost 40 years, people have been coming to Steve when losing for them is not an option.  To learn more, visit    The Mandel Law Firm or give the firm a call at (646) 770-3868.

About Author

LaDonna Dennis

LaDonna Dennis is the founder and creator of Mom Blog Society. She wears many hats. She is a Homemaker*Blogger*Crafter*Reader*Pinner*Friend*Animal Lover* Former writer of Frost Illustrated and, Cancer...SURVIVOR! LaDonna is happily married to the love of her life, the mother of 3 grown children and "Grams" to 3 grandchildren. She adores animals and has four furbabies: Makia ( a German Shepherd, whose mission in life is to be her attached to her hip) and Hachie, (an OCD Alaskan Malamute, and Akia (An Alaskan Malamute) who is just sweet as can be. And Sassy, a four-month-old German Shepherd who has quickly stolen her heart and become the most precious fur baby of all times. Aside from the humans in her life, LaDonna's fur babies are her world.

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4 years ago

I can’t even imagine how hard that would be! Luckily my husband and I are happily married.

Jaana McEntee
4 years ago

I can’t even start to imagine how terrible this scenario would be.. Custody for pets, for children.. Very sad..

Ewuzie Kingsley
4 years ago

This is interesting, have never considered how a pet fits into the life of couples or individual. while no one anticipates for divorce, all those are really important if it eventually comes but over here divorce is never an option in marriage.

Viano Dee
4 years ago

It’s sad that when a divorce goes through it not only tears kids apart but even pets. Everyone in one way or the other gets affected.

Anu Shukla
4 years ago

Great piece of information.

Love your writing skills.
Keep sharing stuff like these.

Dalene Ekirapa
Dalene Ekirapa
4 years ago

I wouldn’t have thought about pet custody after divorce yet it’s such a serious topic. So I’ll agree that looking into the legal papers and seeing whose name is recognized would help. And also, one should consider who treated the pet well.

Jocelyn @ Hip Mama's Place

How timely! My hubby and I were just talking about his recently divorced cousin last night because they had two pet cats and we were wondering why she kept both cats in her own house. This is a great article for that.

4 years ago

That is definitely something difficult to go through. Pets are like a part of the family, and it is hard to lose them, even if you have to split your time.

Annemarie LeBlanc
Annemarie LeBlanc
4 years ago

This is something that people should consider too. Most of the time, couples who undergo divorce have their thoughts focused on separation of property, child custody but forget about the family pet. This article is very helpful. First time I have read about this issue.

4 years ago

Great information for married pet owners. You never know what life would bring so good to know all these information.

4 years ago

I did not have an idea about how much difficult it can be to have pet in custody in divorce.

Ankita Patel
4 years ago

Love your skills
keep sharing things like this.

4 years ago

Good afternoon to the participants in the dialogue! I want to tell you my sad experience. My husband and I divorced very quickly, without scandals and division of property. It’s great that there were no children and we could afford a divorce online – . But our cat became a stumbling block.

Ken S. Maynard - Divorce mediator

Keep up the good work at your end keeping your readers informed. Back here in Canada our court system just does not know what to do with Pet Custody cases. Recently a Family Court Judge referred to pet custody as a waste of time. It is so important that couples take the high road in separation and divorce.