Of all the property that has to be divided in a divorce, the property that tends to stir the most emotion is a pet. I am a dog guy (I own two big dopes) and I get it. I don’t ever want to give up my dogs. But, many clients are shocked to find out that the dog is treated like any other property in a divorce; they are either marital or separate property and are distributed accordingly.
Rest assured that the parties can always agree to visitation with pets, and they frequently do. Some people even exchange custody of the dog every week and share dog related expenses.
But, if a court is making the decision about the dog, the court will have to determine whether the dog was owned by a party prior to the marriage or it was acquired during the marriage. The court may also have to determine whether one spouse gave the other spouse the pet as a gift. If the pet was given as a gift, then the pet may be considered the sole property of the receiving spouse.
Frankly, judges do not like to make decisions about who gets the dog. They typically have larger issues to sort out (I mean that in a financial sense. There aren’t many larger emotional issues than a pet.) But, if the case goes to court, the dog is legally an asset and has to be given to one of the spouses.
In a similar vein, I get the occasional phone call from someone that wants to sue for the death of or injury to a pet. Even if the person that injured or killed your pet is legally responsible, the damages in those cases are generally limited to the value of the pet. In most cases, the value of the family pet is no more than a few hundred dollars.
For those of you that own horses, things get a little more complicated. We recently handled a case involving a horse that went lame during transport to North Carolina. Horses can be worth a lot of money, and damages in those cases can be much higher. Cases involving horses may well justify legal action. However, horses, like other pets, are still considered simple property in the eyes of the law.
Unfortunately, the law does not yet recognize the unique emotional value of a pet. Thus, the emotional trauma from the injury to or loss of a pet is generally not a strong basis for a lawsuit or the collection of money in court. And, for most pets, their legal value is insufficient to justify the expense of a lawsuit.
Please note that nothing on this blog should be considered legal advice and that viewing the information on this blog does not create an attorney-client relationship between us. You are advised to consult with an attorney to confirm the current state of any legal information contained in this blog, as the law constantly changes.