So, during a divorce, who does get to keep the dog? This issue has actually arisen in my practice often within the past few months. It may come as a surprise to you that according to a 2006 survey by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers the number of pet custody cases has increased significantly since 2001. The fact is more and more people today are willing to stand their ground on who gets to keep the family pet. I know I’m in the percentage that would probably go to battle with my husband to keep my 10 year old lovable lab/chow mix, Deuce, but then again, my husband wouldn’t put up a fight anyway. He wouldn’t want Deuce and he knows I would win custody. I’ve loved and cared for my pup way longer than I’ve even known my husband.
Under Louisiana law pets are considered property subject to allocation during a divorce. Therefore ownership of the pet is determined by Louisiana’s community property laws. In general if one party owned the pet prior to the marriage, the pet will be considered that person’s separate property which they will keep after the divorce and partition of the community property.
The issue gets more complex when the pet was acquired during the marriage and is considered community property. Louisiana’s community property laws provide that at the termination of the marriage the community property is divided equally between the spouses. Since splitting the family’s beloved pet in two is obviously not an option the parties must come to an agreement between themselves regarding who gets the pet or a “visitation schedule” of the pet or, ultimately the judge hear evidence and testimony and render a decision. Some commentators have observed that in cases where children are involved the judge is likely to keep the pet with the child. However, where the beloved pet is the “only child” between the parties, the parties either have to agree on who takes ownership, reach an agreement to share the pet, or let the judge determine ownership. If the decision is left to the judge decide he will likely make his ownership determination based on who took primary care of the animal, in other words who took responsibility for feeding, walking, bathing, cleaning, and taking the pet to the vet.
Some people say it sounds crazy, but I understand completely. I used to volunteer at Audubon Zoo as a Jr. Zoo Keeper when I was in grade school. I had too many hamsters and fish to count as a child, as well as several cats over my lifetime. In 8th grade I convinced my parents to buy me a pet snake for Christmas. “Dezi” was an orange and red rosy corn snake and was about 15 years old when he passed away a few summers ago. I am an animal lover. I understand my client’s love for their pets and determination to gain “custody”.