Pets are property. As such, they are subject to division in a divorce. Litigating pet owners have spent many thousands of dollars fighting for their furry and scaly friends. In a few notable cases, the parties spent over one hundred thousand dollars. Pets move us and in the already emotional turmoil of divorce, the struggle for pets can be epic.
Pets are not children. The controlling legal standard is not what is in the best interest of the animal. As property, they are to be part of the “equitable” division. Equitable does not mean equal, but it does mean that a judge could assign a monetary value on the pet in making the decision. However, in some states, such as a recent finding by the Connecticut Supreme Court, some quasi best interest evaluation is appropriate. Who can better care for the cat? Who is closer to the fish? Tennessee, though, has not yet had that sort of law infused into our cases.
Just because you had your dog before the marriage does not mean it is safely yours. Separate property can become marital. Treating your dog as the marital dog can make it marital. This is called transmutation in divorce legal terms. Both husband and wife may be emotionally attached and see the pet as, at least partially, theirs.
Pets do not have to be a fight. Even some of the most unreasonable and even outright mean people have a soft spot for animals. Agreements can be reached and compromises made. For those who are already weary, a prenup can be made that addresses the animals. Bottom line, do not assume your dog is a non-issue.