People in Texas form strong emotional attachments to their household animals, and when pet owners go through a divorce, the question of who will get custody of the family dog and cat can sometimes be a contentious one if they are otherwise unable to agree on the matter. Although courts have traditionally treated the pets as personal property subject to the normal rules of division, many are now treating them a little bit differently and are looking at this issue in a similar manner to the way child custody is approached.
Courts that take the best interests of the pet into account when making a custody determination will look at several factors. Which person will have the ability to provide basic necessities, such as food, shelter and health care, could count substantially toward a decision. Additionally, a spouse who historically provided the bulk of daily care might convince a judge that the pet's emotional bond with the caregiver is the strongest. When children are involved, their emotional bonds with the pet could also play a role, and a pet custody schedule might mirror the children's arrangements.
Time to care for the pet could be counted for or against a person. Someone who works long hours or travels for work might not be deemed capable of meeting a pet's emotional and physical needs. A court might also side with the party who brought a pet into the marriage.
Divorcing pet owners might choose to address this issue as part of a comprehensive settlement agreement. A family law attorney can assist a client in negotiating such an agreement that can cover other pertinent divorce legal issues such as property division and spousal support.