Who Gets the Dog in the Divorce in North Carolina?

Written by Jonathan Breeden

March 8, 2023

Dogs and other pets feel like family members. During a divorce, they are often caught in the crossfire as spouses struggle for custody. North Carolina laws can guide who gets the family pet, but the matter can be complicated.

Read more about who can keep the dog after a divorce in North Carolina, and why a divorce lawyer can help you keep custody.

How Does North Carolina Law Handle Pets?

Family pets may feel like family, but in North Carolina, they are considered property or assets. That means you can divide them as you would any other property – through an agreement with your ex.

If you cannot reach an agreement, then the court may be forced to place ownership of the pet with one spouse or the other.

What is a Pet Custody Agreement in NC?

You can develop a pet custody agreement like a child custody agreement. Your agreement will outline who has primary custody and responsibility for the dog.

The judge in charge of your case will consider many factors when determining “custody.” Some factors the court will consider include:

  • Who was the primary caregiver of the pet
  • Who initially purchased the pet
  • Who has the financial ability to pay for the pet’s needs
  • Bonds between the owners and pet

Why Do These Factors Matter in Pet Custody Agreements?

Although family pets are treated as assets, a judge will take a pet’s well-being into consideration. Whoever is selected to care for the dog must demonstrate they can provide for the dog and provide a stable home life for the animal.

Is the Pet a Marital or Separate Asset?

North Carolina law states that property will be divided equitably in a divorce. Property is divided based on whether it’s a marital or separate asset. Separate assets are generally acquired before marriage, while marital assets are purchased or acquired during a marriage.

Pets can be marital or separate assets. If one spouse owned them before the marriage, they might be considered separate property. If the pet was acquired during the marriage, it will be considered marital property. The court will determine who gets the pets like any other property.

Because a family pet cannot be physically divided, it might be given to one spouse. Other assets will be given to the other spouse in the pet’s place. It is rare for the court to develop a custody agreement.

What Kind of Exceptions Are There for Pet Custody?

There are some exceptions for determining pet custody. For example, if a pet were a gift to one spouse, then that spouse would likely be given custody of it by the court.

If a pet is actually a service animal, then the spouse who needs the assistance would receive sole custody.

How Do I Draft a Pet Custody Agreement?

You can draft a pet custody agreement like a child custody agreement. You can even include pet support if you want. A pet custody agreement is simply a contract you and your spouse must follow.

What Should I Include in a Pet Custody Agreement?

A pet custody agreement should include how time will be shared. You might split time evenly, or one spouse might have primary custody while the other has visitation. It might be beneficial to match it to your child custody agreement and visitation schedule if you have children.

You should also consider who will pay for pet expenses like insurance, medical costs, grooming, food, and other needs. You might incorporate a pet support payment from the noncustodial parent to supplement the pet’s needs.

Pet Custody in North Carolina FAQs

How is a Pet’s Value Decided as an Asset?

Even if you think your pet is priceless, a North Carolina family court is going to assess your pet as property. It will be assigned a monetary value, included in your estate’s total. Any emotional value will not be included as you work to divide the property.

From a fiscal point of view, a purebred animal is going to be worth more than any adopted from the shelter.

What if the Dog Was a Gift?

In the property division process, gifts are typically considered separate property for the giftee. So if your dog was given to you, you can likely retain ownership after a divorce.

What if the Dog is a Therapy Animal?

Many animals offer emotional benefits, but any animal that is registered as a support companion or service animal will typically be allowed to remain with the spouse that is benefitting them.

Why Should I Call a Family Law Attorney About Pet Custody?

Divorces in general are complex. Adding the confusing layer of pet ownership can make divorces more challenging. A divorce lawyer with experience in North Carolina courts will understand how much a family pet means to you and your children.

Your attorney can use their skills to negotiate pet ownership after a divorce. After all, a pet may have more emotional value than fiscal value, which a judge may not understand. Your attorney can negotiate with your ex to allow you to keep the dog, or help you find the argument that can convince them.

Call Breeden Law for Help with Your Pet Case

If you are seeking a divorce and a pet is involved, you should work with an experienced lawyer who can ensure you do what is best for your entire family. Your children will likely have strong feelings about who gets custody of the family pet as well. You should consider everything.

Contact the divorce law firm of Breeden Law Office for a consultation on your case. Call us at (919) 661-4970 or contact us online today.



Divorce In North Carolina: What You Need To Know

A book by Jonathan Breeden