For Texas spouses considering ending a marriage, the care and custody of pets often becomes a significant source of concern. That is understandable, as many people are incredibly connected to their pets, often treating them like members of the family. When divorce alters the family’s structure, it isn’t always clear where the pets will reside, and if or when the other party will be able to spend time with the animals. One state is trying to work through this issue by allowing courts to consider pet “custody” issues during divorce cases.
The West Coast state will now grant judges the ability to determine pet custody by considering matters such as which party assumed primary care of the animal, who spent the most time with the pet and which party can properly provide for the pet’s ongoing needs in terms of resources and attention. That is a big departure from the way these issues are handled in other areas. Very often, courts refuse to engage in these matters at all. In other cases, the decision is made in much the same way as any other form of property: the party who “owned” or purchased the animal retains all rights after the divorce.
The new law also allows for financial support for the “custodial” pet owner. That means that one party can be ordered to pay for the pet’s care as the matter moves though court. Other matters are left to the judge’s discretion. For example, there are no guidelines given for pet visitation or issues of pet alienation. Those matters could become part of future changes, however.
For those in Texas preparing to divorce and wondering how their beloved pets might be handled in the matter, the best course of action is to ask a skilled divorce attorney how the area courts approach pet “custody.” Knowing what to expect can help spouses create a negotiating strategy and hopefully avoid asking the court to weigh in at all. If it comes to a court battle, however, knowing how family courts look on issues of pet custody is critical to a successful outcome.