Pets can be such an integral part of a family. When a couple begins divorce proceedings, who gets the pets? Dogs and cats, especially, are often treated and loved like a child in a family, but state law does not treat pets the same as human children when it comes to divorce. Today’s post focuses on our loving, loyal domesticated animals who bring us comfort, especially during tough times like going through a separation or divorce.
Under North Carolina state law, pets are considered personal property and treated the same way in a divorce as your household furnishings, washing machine, or jewelry. That means that pets can be divided pursuant to a claim for equitable distribution, the same way couches, chairs, and bedframes may be divided. There is no claim for pet “custody” under North Carolina law. Most couples come to an agreement about who will take the pet(s) and care for them going forward. Some couples agree that the spouse who is not retaining the pet will be permitted to see the pet upon reasonable request, or even be the “pet sitter” if the spouse keeping the pet goes out of town overnight. Some couples agree to divide time with the pet equally and equally divide the cost of the pet’s veterinary care.
Of note, if you acquired the pet before marriage, received the pet as an individual gift, or inherited the pet from a family member or friend, then you will receive the pet in the divorce. In the situations mentioned, the pet is considered separate property and is exclusively your pet (or property, as a pet is considered in North Carolina) upon divorce.
There are many creative solutions to this pet issue if you and your spouse can come to an agreement. We focus on out-of-court solutions for our clients and in the situation of dividing up time with a pet, we especially believe that this is something that should and can be handled without a court’s involvement. While animals are extremely important to families, it is not appropriate to tie up the court’s resources by fighting over an animal in court if it can be avoided.
Similar to North Carolina, South Carolina treats pets as property. There are no “pet custody” laws in South Carolina that distribute the pet to the spouse most capable of caring for the pet. The pet is considered “separate property” if acquired prior to marriage or if the pet was a gift. If the pet was acquired after marriage, it is “marital property” that will be distributed alongside the rest of the marital estate pursuant to an equitable apportionment claim.
If you are separating and concerned about what will happen to your family pets, please reach out by phone or by clicking the button below to schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys.
Lindsey Dasher is the Managing Partner at Dasher Law PLLC