For those who have them, pets are a big part of people’s lives. Many American families treat their pets like their own children and view them as a part of the family.  Pet ownership tends to bring many benefits to families, including companionship and emotional support. However, a lot of tension can arise in a family when a couple gets divorced and cannot determine who should have ownership of the family pets. How then, is custody of pets determined by the courts in divorce?

Ideally, determining who gets to keep a pet in a divorce can be done by creating an agreement ahead of time and including it in the prenuptial or postnuptial arrangements. Assuming the married couple did not do this, there are other things the court will look at in order to determine who should keep the “property”, or the family pet. Relevant factors that the courts look for include the following:


In many cases, if the pet belonged to a particular individual prior to the marriage, then most likely the pet will remain with that same individual after the divorce. Ownership may be determined based on the pet’s adoption or registration papers. If there are no registration papers or the pet has joint custody by the parents, the courts will look at other factors.

Caretaking Responsibilities

Day-to-day activities such as caretaking are some of the most common ways that pets bond with their owners. The person who walks, bathes, feeds, and spends time with the pet is likely to be the person that the pet sees as their owner. If one individual in the marriage has taken the majority of the responsibility for the pet, chances are he or she may be entitled to legal ownership of the pet.

Housing with Children

For married couples with children, pets often serve as a companion for the kids as well as a way to teach young children responsibility. If the couple divorces and custody is given to one of the parents, the court may decide to keep the family pet at the home where the children reside.

Financial and Personal Circumstances

Other factors that determine who is awarded pet ownership include basic things like finances and personal accountability. Even though the court views pets as legal assets, they also know that pets are living beings which require adequate care, food, hydration, and other necessities. If one of the parties is struggling financially and cannot afford to care for the pet, the courts will likely award ownership of the pet to the more affluent party. Similarly, if personal or professional circumstances, such as a work schedule, prevent one of the parties from being able to provide adequate care, the court is likely to give ownership to the party with more time and resources to devote to the pet.

Soto Mack Law Firm has handled many divorce cases in Kissimmee Osceola County. For more information on our legal divorce services, contact us at (407)-392-9008.