How to Keep Your Pet After Divorce

According to an article on, Americans spend $40 billion on their pets each year. This is proof that pet owners often consider their dog, cat, bird, etc. to be part of the family.

During divorce, a conflict arises between the courts and the loving pet owners. When the parting spouses look to the court to decide on custody of the animal, there’s no sympathy. In fact, the judge will look at the pet as a piece of marital property that should be given to one of the owners, not both. A pet is not something that can be divided by way of a custody arrangement, at least not in the eyes of the California Courts.

It’s not just California divorce law that doesn’t take pets into consideration; no state offers a consideration for pets. In 2007, a bill made its way to the Wisconsin Legislature, but that bill died. In other words, it doesn’t matter where you file for divorce – it’s next to impossible to get “legal custody” of a pet.

If you have a pet that you consider to be part of your family and insist on keeping the pet after a divorce, here are some tactics that could help you keep the animal.

1.    In divorce, your best strategy is almost always compromise.  Be willing to give up things your spouse wants, so that you can  keep your pet.

2.    Create an informal shared custody arrangement that allows your former spouse to see the animal regularly. Over time, you may find your former spouse becomes less interested in visiting the pet.

3.    Ask your spouse to agree to a formal contract that specifies your right to keep the dog. This contact is not likely to stand up in divorce court, but at least you have what you want in print and have something to use as leverage if you decide to pursue pet ownership in a different legal matter.

Generally speaking, use kindness to keep your pet. An angry spouse is less likely to offer you full ownership of the animal if you are vindictive and difficult about the issue. If you feel you or your pet is in some kind of danger because of your spouse, California law does provide restraining orders to protect you both. Read “Who Gets the Family Pet Following Divorce?” in the California Divorce Guide for those details.