Getting a divorce impacts all the family members and more than likely that includes a very special pet of one kind or another – furry, feathery, or scaly. No matter if they live in the house or outside, it’s important to know what to expect as you make plans for a new life.
Texas law takes the position that pets are property, not family members. Even though your pet might sometimes feel like a child, decisions about what is to become of domestic animals after a divorce are very different from child custody determinations.
Texas is a Community Property State
Because community property laws affect property and other valuable assets, they can have a profound effect on a spouse’s future when they are forced to part with an asset that was thought to be separate property. Absent a prenuptial agreement between the couple, the state law in which the couple was married will dictate how property will be distributed.
In property division, the debts and assets of the divorcing partners are split up. If you and your spouse are arguing over custody of the dog, the judge will treat Bruno as just another asset. That means the court will put a price tag on Bruno — particularly if he’s a purebred or otherwise valuable breed — if you acquired the dog during your marriage. If you had him before you married, or if someone gave him to you as a gift or inheritance, he’s your separate property and the court won’t get involved.
If Bruno the dog is treated as community property, and if you get the dog in the divorce, your spouse must receive a different asset of comparable value. If you don’t have sufficient assets to balance this, it’s possible that the court might order that the dog be sold so you can share the proceeds. Whatever the outcome, the ruling should be included in your decree. It is possible to co-own a pet on an ongoing basis with your ex-partner by providing provisions related to care expenses for the animal and developing a custody schedule.
Protection for Family Pets
In addition to prenups and post-nups, you and your spouse can have “pet nups” to specifically provide for the rights and responsibilities each will have in regard to the pet in the event they are no longer living under the same roof.
If there are dire circumstances, under the Texas Family Code, a protective order can include a provision prohibiting a person found to have committed family violence from harming, threatening, or interfering with the care, custody, or control of a pet, companion animal, or assistance animal in the care of a person, family, or household member protected by the order. Many counties in Texas have included this protective language in their “standing orders”.
With society’s changing attitude that pets are not property but family, this is an emerging area of family law. Pets can help you through a divorce, and a lawyer can help you keep your pets.
To help get the best outcome possible for you and your pet, get in touch with a Texas family law attorney and start planning for your future. Our attorneys at C.E. Borman & Associates, can provide you with trusted legal advice.