According to data provided by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), approximately two thirds of U.S. households own at least one pet. For pet owners, going through a divorce can be stressful. You likely have concerns regarding what exactly is going to happen to your animal. Here, our Dallas, TX divorce attorneys explain the most important things that you need to know about Texas law, pets, and marital separation.
Texas Law Treats Pets as Property
Pets often become true members of the family. However, in the eyes of Texas law, pets are simply property. This distinction has important implications for pets and divorce.
As a starting point, a divorcing couple must determine if the pet(s) are separate property or marital, i.e. “community,” property. A pet that one spouse brought into the marriage is likely separate property. As such, that spouse will retain full ownership over the animal after the divorce. In contrast, if a pet was acquired after the marriage began, it is likely to be community property. This means that both spouses have an ownership interest in the animal. Community property is divided in a manner that is “just and right.”
Unfortunately, splitting up pets can be challenging, for obvious reasons. Just as it’s hard to split the proverbial baby, imagine splitting the family Standard Schnauzer…
Texas’ legal answer is to only assign as to pets a pure, straightforward economic value. This is an issue that people find challenging, given the emotional, extrinsic value assigned to a pet by the owner family. Notably, a few states have started to change their laws on pets and divorce. As explained by the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), California recently passed a pet custody law that authorizes state courts to consider what is in the best interests of the pet. Still, it does not work that way in Texas. Pets are strictly property. There is no custody consideration.
Collaborative Solutions Usually Work Best for Pets and Divorce
For the reasons mentioned, Texas courts are often ill-equipped to resolve disputes regarding pets and divorce. The sentimental and emotional value of a pet is simply not fully accounted for by state law. One of the consequences of this is that divorcing couples are often better able to deal with pets in their divorce by working collaboratively towards a solution.
In some cases, divorcing couples may want to reach an agreement whereby each party gets time with a beloved pet. In other cases, it may be better for one spouse to take on the full ownership rights and responsibilities. If you are concerned about your pet and your divorce, our Dallas, TX family law attorneys can help you take action to protect your rights and find the best possible solution.
Set Up Your Confidential Divorce Consultation Today
At Orsinger, Nelson, Downing and Anderson, LLP, our top-rated Texas divorce lawyers are committed to providing sophisticated, fully personalized legal representation to individuals and families. For a strictly private initial divorce consultation, please call us at (214) 273-2400 or contact us online. With offices in Dallas, Frisco, and Fort Worth, we serve communities throughout the region, including in Tarrant County, Collin County, Dallas County, and Denton County.