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Pets and Divorce

Pets and Divorce

December 20, 2017

By Johnson/Turner Legal

Pets and Divorce

December 20, 2017

By Johnson/Turner Legal

A brown and white beagle is in the forefront of the shot, looking past the camera. A man in an orange plaid shirt sits at a white desk in the background, petting the dog's head while holding a tablet in his other hand.

Having pets is very common among American households. One survey found that almost 80 million households in the United States owned at least one pet in 2015-2016. In so many cases, these animals are considered family members. When a relationship fails and there is a divorce or separation, is should therefore be no surprise that the issue of who gets the pets can be a contentious problem.

In a divorce, the issue of who should get the pet can be a contentious one, and many pet owners will fight just as hard over who gets the pet as parents will over who gets the children.

Who Gets the Dog in a Divorce?

In Minnesota, as in many other states, pets and other animals are considered to be property. Even though many people may fondly think of their pet as “another child,” there are no pet custody or pet visitation laws in Minnesota. Instead, pets are considered personal property and, accordingly, the issue of who gets the dog/cat will be governed by the same rules as the distribution of other property.

Like any other personal property, pets are subject to division in a divorce. This means that one person will be awarded the pet in the divorce and the other person will be entitled to the value of his or her equitable share of the pet. Unless a pet is a highly prized show animal, this is usually a negligible amount. The real issue for people is that they have a strong emotional bond with the pet which cannot be easily replaced.

As with other issues in a divorce, if the parties can come to an agreement, there are few limits to what the parties can achieve. It is possible for parties to settle on a “visitation” arrangement for the pet. Any such agreement should also take into account splitting costs for veterinary care as well as what will happen if one party needs to relocate for a job.

Litigated Pet Custody

If the parties cannot agree and there is a court battle for a pet, there are several facts a court may take into consideration when deciding which spouse should be receive the pet.

The most obvious is who has traditionally been the most responsible for the pet’s care. If one spouse has been overwhelmingly more responsible for providing the pet with veterinary care, feeding the pet, grooming the pet, and other necessary actions, then that spouse is much more likely to be awarded the pet in the divorce.

Courts may sometimes also consider the impact on the children, if the parties share children. If the children have a strong bond with the pet, the custodial parent may have the upper hand.

At Johnson/Turner Legal, we understand that your pet is important to you, and we have experience helping clients with pet issues during divorce. Contact us today at (320) 299-4249 and we can talk about your case.


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