Any pet owner knows that the pet is almost always considered part of the family. Millions of American families adopt dogs and cats as well as more exotic choices, such as pot-bellied pigs or snakes. In a divorce, the issue of who should receive 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. In Minnesota, as in many other states, pets and other animals are considered to be property. Accordingly, the issue of who receives the pet will be governed by the same rules as the distribution of other property.
In Minnesota, the general rule is property acquired before the marriage is non-marital property, not subject to division in the divorce. To the contrary, property acquired during the marriage is marital property and is subject to division. If a pet is non-marital property, the issue is typically fairly simple. For example, if you owned your dog before you were married, the court will likely determine the dog is non-marital property and your soon-to-be former spouse has no ability to claim he or she should be awarded the dog. Clearly, though, if the dog was acquired during the marriage, it becomes more complicated. Unlike other marital assets, it is not possible to be awarded just half of a pet. Moreover, courts will not craft a “shared custody” plan for a dog absent an agreement of the parties, as a dog is not a child. Without an agreement of who should be awarded the pet, the parties will each need to present evidence on which party is more appropriate to receive the dog. Even though a dog or other pet is not a child, the evidence the parties use to demonstrate they should receive the dog is often similar to that seen in a custody dispute. For example, if one spouse can demonstrate that he or she was the “primary caretaker” for the dog and was usually the one responsible for walking, grooming, and feeding the dog, this is a strong argument for that spouse to be awarded the dog. If the parties also have children, the children’s bond with the pet may also be examined when deciding who gets the dog. If the children are strongly bonded to the dog, the parent who is awarded the majority of time with the children is also likely to be awarded the dog.
We have extensive experience in helping our clients with all types of issues with divorce, including pets. Call us today and we can examine the unique issues facing you and your family.