Many Texans are very emotionally attached to their pets, and consider them a part of the family. However, for the purposes of divorce, Texas courts consider pets to be property. In the divorce process, the parties typically must reach agreement on who will keep the pets, and pets may even become bargaining chips in the high-stakes property division process within a high net worth divorce.
Surveys have shown that custody battles over pets are becoming increasingly common in American divorces, with the most common arguments involving dogs. In some cases, these disputes even take on the contours of a child custody dispute. In some cases, when the parties have not been able to reach agreement, courts have decided pet ownership disputes by considering factors such as who was the primary caregiver for the animal and which partner’s home life is better suited to pet ownership.
However, these cases are not to be confused with child custody disputes. In the eyes of state law, a pet is property and ownership is to be decided the same way the court treats property interests in other unique items of sentimental value. Courts are reluctant to consider the parties’ emotional attachment to the animal.
In some particularly unpleasant divorces, one party will try to exploit the other’s attachment to the pet in order to secure something else in negotiations. However if judges see this kind of emotional manipulation at work, they may consider it to be bargaining in bad faith.
Texas residents should make sure they understand all their legal rights when it comes to property division, especially in a high asset divorce. Property division issues have the ability to change a person’s financial future if they are not handled correctly.
Source: Forbes, “How Are Pets Handled In Divorce?” Jeff Landers, April 17, 2014