Pet Custody During Divorce

Nearly 85 million people in the United States have at least one pet in their homes. Dogs, cats, birds, and fish are common types of pets. Regardless of the kind of animal, people with pets feel companionship and affection for them.

When two people enter into a relationship, one or both may have a pet. During the relationship, the couple may share the caretaking duties for the pets. If the couple marries, they bring their pets into the union. Sometimes spouses acquire additional pets throughout the marriage. When the relationship is in good standing, the spouses may feel that the pets are part of the family and belong to both of them. However, when a married couple decides to divorce, disputes may arise regarding who gets to keep the pets.

Every year, thousands of spouses file for divorce. They petition the court to resolve spousal support, child custody, child support, parenting time, and property division and distribution in seeking to dissolve their marriage. The court terminates the marriage after spouses agree on disputed subjects or the judge decides the divorce matters. The court finalizes the divorce by writing and signing a divorce decree, which is a court order that ends the marriage.

The divorcing spouses must submit a complete listing of their assets and debts with the value or amount owed. On the Statement of Assets and Liabilities form, the parties describe their assets and debts. They must state the assets or debt assign which goes to each spouse. When spouses cannot agree on the property distribution or the values, the divorce case proceeds to trial.

Oregon law currently considers pets as personal property. Therefore, they are subject to property division and distribution in a dissolution of marriage suit. The judge’s review of the list of assets and debts includes determining if the items listed are separate property or marital property. Property that a spouse acquires before marriage, by gift to one spouse, by inheritance or in a will is separate property. Marital property is the property that spouses obtain during the marriage regardless of whether individually or jointly owned or titled.

Once the court designates the property as separate and marital, distribution of the assets and debts can occur. Each spouse retains the sole ownership of their respective separate property. Debts that are separate property are the responsibility of the spouse the creditor names as liable for the debt. Unlike separate property, the judge must divide marital property between the spouses.

Under Oregon law, marital property division is by equitable distribution. Marital property consists of real property and personal property. Real property includes land, buildings, fixtures attached to the land, and minerals on or under the land. Personal property is property other than real property that someone can own, such as money, jewelry, stocks, vehicles, furniture, patents, trademarks, copyrights, pensions and retirement benefits. The court distributes the assets and debts based on what is fair and appropriate. However, the distribution may not result in an equal split.

The court applies certain factors listed in Oregon laws to determine equitable distribution of marital property. They include:

  • Tax consequences for each spouse for the property distribution judgment
  • The cost of selling the assets
  • Spouse awarded spousal support
  • Any other relevant factors that to determine what is just and fair

When a dispute arises in a divorce case over pets, the spouses may seek a form of pet custody. Oregon law does not treat pets in the same manner as children. Dogs and other pets are legally considered to be property. Therefore, they do not have custody determinations as they do for child custody. Although pets are more than just property, the court decides pet ownership disputes by applying equitable distribution laws.

The ideal situation is for both spouses to agree on the pet ownership and living arrangement for the pet, especially for the benefit of their children. When the parties do resolve the pet custody, the court must view the pet as a possession. As personal property, the pet has a monetary value and is subject to property division. 

If a spouse owned the pet as separate property, the spouse retains sole ownership of the pet. If spouses acquired the pet during the marriage, the court might award the pet to one spouse while the other spouse receives a percentage of the pet’s value. The factors for equitable distribution of a pet are likely to differ slightly than for inanimate objects and include:

  • Relationship between the pet and each spouse
  • Emotional ties between the pet and the spouses’ children
  • Which spouse is the custodial parent
  • Each spouse financial ability to provide for the needs of the pet
  • If the spouses have additional pets

To schedule a consultation with one of our postnuptial attorneys in Oregon or SW Washington, call us now at 503.222.9116 or write us.

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