If you are preparing for a divorce, you have a lot on your mind. You are facing decisions about your housing, kids, and finances, all while nursing emotional pain. In all that flurry, you also must consider another loved one: your beloved pet.
For many, the family dog is more than just an animal in the home. It is a legitimate family member, and the their love for the canine is strong. On top of all your other worries, you may be concerned about your ability to keep Fluffy after the divorce.
In this blog post, we will broadly cover property law and how it relates to pet ownership in a Texas divorce.
The Laws on Pet Ownership in a Texas Divorce
If a couple cannot agree on who keeps an animal, then the court must decide for them.
Generally, courts treat animals as property, and they use standard property division laws when they choose who can keep the pet.
Texas follows the “community property” division system in a divorce. Essentially, this approach assumes that all property acquired during the marriage is “marital property,” and both spouses own this property equally. During a divorce, the court attempts to give each spouse 50% of the marital assets.
Any asset you owned before the marriage should be considered “separate property,” and the court typically lets you keep this property without any argument.
To keep any marital asset, you must claim entitlement to that asset. You must demonstrate your legal right or interest in the item.
Regarding pets, entitlement rests on factors such as:
- Who spent more time caring for the pet
- The bond between the pet and the owner
- Who has the financial means to continue the pet’s care
When attempting to keep your dog in a Texas divorce:
- If you acquired the dog during the marriage, you must prove you are entitled to the animal.
- If you owned the animal before the marriage, it is separate property. You can make a strong argument to keep the dog after the divorce.
- If the dog is marital property (acquired during the marriage), and you can keep it, then you should expect to owe your spouse half the dog’s value.
What Rights Do I Have to My Pet After a Divorce in Texas?
Texas law treats pets as property. Like any other asset, pets will be divided equitably between the two parties.
However, pets hold an emotional value that exceeds their monetary worth. Many judges recognize this value, and they may consider the pet's best interest in their decision-making.
Texas doesn’t recognize a “custody battle” with a pet, but you do have options. For instance, you may be able to share ownership, trading the animal regularly. Your attorney can help you explore alternatives to giving up your furry friend.
Who is Responsible for Pet Expenses After a Texas Divorce?
In most cases, the court will consider the pet another asset, like a car or furniture, and assign ownership to one spouse or the other. The one who keeps the animal should be responsible for its continued care.
However, if both spouses contributed to the pet’s care during the marriage, the court could require both parties to share the financial responsibility after the divorce. Your attorney can help you strategize if you need extra help caring for the animal after divorce.
Pets and Prenups
You can include pet ownership agreements in a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement. The document may outline who will assume ownership and responsibility for expenses after a divorce.
What Should I Do if My Spouse Wants to Keep the Dog in a Divorce?
- Gather evidence demonstrating that you are the primary caregiver and have a stronger bond with the dog. Such evidence includes proof of frequent vet visits; records of feeding, walking, and training schedules; and receipts for supplies and toys. You could also provide instances where your dog has reacted positively to your presence or commands, showcasing the strong bond you share.
- Consider negotiating a mutually beneficial custody arrangement with your spouse. You can make divorce decisions without getting a court involved. Mediation can help you negotiate any divorce terms, including a shared custody schedule.
- If all else fails, consult with a lawyer who can help you navigate the legal process and fight for your dog's best interests. Remember, taking care of your pet is a serious responsibility, and it's important to prioritize their well-being during this difficult time.
Law Offices Of Mark M. Childress is here to help protect your assets in a divorce, pets included. If you are worried about losing your canine companion, reach out to us online today or call us at (817) 497-8148.