Who Gets the Family Pet?

For many families, a beloved pet is another member of the family unit. Often times, difficult decisions need to be made in the midst of the divorce proceeding regarding who will be awarded “custody” of the pet. This can be especially challenging, not to mention emotional, if there are children involved. Rather than have a custody battle over the family pet, there are several creative ways that families can reach a resolution to make everyone, including the much-loved pet, happy.

In Minnesota, a pet (let’s refer to the pet as “Spot”) is treated as if it were property. Spot would be added into the group of personal property (i.e. the furniture) to be divided equally between the divorcing parties. Of course, it is impossible to literally divide Spot in half, so what can people do?

Before we hypothesize about ways to “divide” Spot, it is important to know if Spot is marital or non-marital property. If Spot is one party’s non-marital property – meaning Spot was purchased by one party prior to the marriage, was a gift to one party by someone other than their spouse, or was purchased with non-marital funds – Spot would be awarded as that party’s non-marital property and there is nothing to divide. Unless otherwise agreed, the other party would have no rights to Spot. However, if Spot is marital property, then there may be an issue.

If the parties cannot agree on who should be awarded Spot, here are several ways that Spot can be “divided.”

  • When a child is involved, the parents may agree that Spot follows the same parenting time schedule as the child. This allows both parents to maintain their special relationship with Spot.
  • If this arrangement is not desirable for the parties, then one party would need to be awarded Spot. This would leave one party without a family pet. However, that parent is left with an opportunity to rescue or purchase another pet and begin making new memories with their children with a second family pet.
  • If there are no children involved, the parties could agree to retain “joint custody” of Spot and create a schedule where Spot spends time with each party.
  • One party could purchase Spot from the other party.

Of course, if the parties are not able to agree on how to “divide” Spot, the decision will be left to a Judge. In making this decision, a Judge will look at many factors including, but not limited to, which party has more of a bond with Spot, who primarily cared for Spot, is there a child who would be affected by awarding Spot to one party versus the other, and what is in the best interest of Spot.

In the end, the best possible outcome for Spot and all members of the family will be one that is best for each individual family.