Pet Custody in a Divorce

Written by Jonathan Breeden

August 11, 2016

When you file for a divorce, you need to be prepared to divide much of your property between you and your spouse. North Carolina is an equitable distribution state, which means the court will, upon request, assume the responsibility to divide your marital property in a way that it feels is fair for both parties. However, some couples would prefer to have a say in how their assets are divided, so they might draw up their own agreement with their attorneys. If you have minor children, you and your spouse may also come to your own terms regarding child custody. But you may be left wondering what happens to the family pet when people divorce.

Who Gets to Keep the Family Pet?

In North Carolina, as well as many other states, pets are considered personal property, not family. Pets that were adopted by a married couple are also marital property, so they would be divided via equitable distribution. Essentially, the court determines the value of the pet or pets, assigns ownership to one spouse, and gives the other spouse something that is of value equal to the animal(s).

If the animal was a gift from one spouse to another spouse, it could be seen as separate property or as marital property. It depends on intent – did the spouse intend the animal as a gift solely for the other spouse, or was the animal gifted under the assumption that it would become the family pet? If you are certain that your pet was a gift from your spouse, deemed solely for your ownership, then you may be able to make the argument to the court for your right to keep the pet.

Pet Custody Agreements

The court’s determination of custody through equitable distribution can no doubt be seen as heartless to those who have a loving bond with their animals. If you and your spouse have a pet that you both want to keep, you may want to consider drafting a pet custody agreement. You may develop ways for both of you to get an opportunity to care for and spend time with your cherished pet. It’s a good idea to consult with an attorney to help you draw up an agreement that both you and your former spouse can agree upon.

Cases Involving Domestic Violence

If you have filed for a divorce because your spouse has engaged in domestic violence and you’re worried that your spouse will take it out on the family pet, you should be aware that the court can protect you, your children, and your pets from any further violent activity. Section 50B-3 of the North Carolina statutes grants restraining orders against people who have committed acts of domestic violence, stating specifically that the order includes “the possession of personal property of the parties, including the care, custody, and control of any animal owned, possessed, kept, or held as a pet by either party or minor child residing in the household.” Further, the court will issue an order barring your spouse from any abuse or cruel treatment of your pet.

Contact a North Carolina Divorce Lawyer

Attorney Jonathan Breeden has devoted his career to helping citizens of North Carolina get through emotional events such as divorce while making the process as painless and stress-free as possible. If you need help with your divorce and custody agreements, call (919) 661-4970 today.


Divorce In North Carolina: What You Need To Know

A book by Jonathan Breeden