Pets are Property, Not Children

That people love their dogs and cats more than they do their estranged spouses comes as no surprise to family law judges who have been asked to mediate in custody decisions about a family pet.

Despite the fact that the owners love their dog or cat more than they love their partners, courts, overwhelmed with the Solomonic task of making custody decisions for children, have backed off. Judges have said that dogs and cats are personal property, and that the applicable principles about dividing personal property should apply to the family dog or cat. However, if a judge decides that Rex the dog or Susie the cat is marital property — and this has happened — he or she may consider which spouse would care better for the pet and which one has a greater attachment to the animal.

This, however, is not a ‘best interest of the animal’ standard, and courts have shied away from awarding visitation rights, the way they do in child custody cases. As one appellate court observed, “Our courts are overwhelmed with the supervision of custody, visitation and support matters related to the protection of our children. We cannot undertake the same responsibility as to animals.”

However, when both spouses love the dog or cat, they have been known to work out shared custody arrangements that involve moving the animal back and forth between them.

A Texas appeal court hit on the truth of the love of animals. It said that a contested puppy “is indeed a fortunate little dog with two humans to shower upon her attention and genuine love frequently not received by human children from their divorced parents.”

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