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Who gets the family pet in the event of a divorce?

So you're going through a divorce and have gotten to the part of the process that is often considered the most contentious: property division. You and your spouse have a pet together and are a little surprised when you are asked about when the pet was purchased and by whom. You have both considered it a part of the family, almost like a child. What purpose would a question like this serve?

As you may not know, Texas law considers pets to be property in the event of a divorce. By answering the question above, you are establishing ownership of the pet, which will then be awarded to the appropriate party in the final agreement. But this proves problematic in situations where both partners are emotionally attached to the animal and would be less than thrilled to know that they may never see their beloved pet again.

Just like with any property in a divorce, the family law courts take into consideration when the pet was purchased and by whom. This establishes if the pet should be considered marital or separate property. If the pet was purchased by one spouse prior to marriage or was a gift, then it would be considered separate property. If the pet was purchased during the course of the marriage, it is considered marital property.

Because Texas is a community property state though, the courts must determine what is fair and equitable when it comes to dividing assets. The courts are likely to take into consideration each spouse's investment in the pet -- including time and money -- when making a decision regarding custody and may even consider who has more of an emotional attachment to the animal as well.

Instead of leaving it in the hands of a judge though, couples do have the option of coming to an agreement regarding pet custody on their own. Just like with child custody, spouses can come to an agreement about who has custody of the pet and can even establish a visitation schedule. These pet agreements are often considered the middle ground for couples who are emotionally attached to their pets and don't want to think of them as property during their divorce.

Source:  Parade, "In a Divorce, Who Gets the Pets?" Michele C. Hollow, Aug. 18, 2014

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