Couples face many issues when they end their marriage. For some, one of the most emotionally challenging issues concern the family pet. However, Texas law does not specifically address the issue of who gets the family pets in a divorce.
Pet custody and visitation
If a spouse inherited the pet, owned the pet before marriage or received the pet as a gift during marriage, the spouse may own that pet as separate property. Otherwise, pets are marital property.
If the parties can’t agree on their own, judges may decide which spouse can keep the pet. Judges use the just and right standard for property division and may consider which spouse selected the pet, who provided daily care and who handled veterinary care.
Spouses, however, can take this decision away from judges by entering an agreement covering pet custody and visitation, whether children can bring pets on visitation and other issues regarding pet care. The agreement may be included in the divorce decree.
Pets not in the decree
There are ways to modify a divorce decree and ask the judge to order pet ownership if this issue was not addressed in the divorce decree. A motion for corrected order may be filed within 30 days and include:
- The spouse awarded custody of the pet and items such as food, bedding, toys, accessories, and veterinarian records.
- The address where the pet is currently located.
- The date, time, location when the pet and related property will be turned over to the spouse.
- Whether police may assist with the retrieval of the pet.
- Remedies if the spouse ordered to turn over the pet does not comply.
If 30 days have passed since final property division, a spouse may file a suit requesting the division of property that was not awarded to a spouse. The period for filing this suit ends two years after the divorce.
If a spouse does not comply with the decree’s provisions concerning pets, the other spouse may file an enforcement of property lawsuit requesting the judge to order compliance with the decree. It must be filed within two years.
The judge can clarify the decree. Courts may also issue a writ allowing a spouse to enter their former spouse’s residence with a peace officer to retrieve the pet.
Attorneys can provide guidance on this and other divorce issues. They can also help prepare agreements that meet these needs.