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Divorce Bites: But who gets the pet?

Divorce Bites – But Who Gets the Pet?

August 18, 2013 Alicia Jurney

It’s no secret that I’m an animal lover.  Anyone who knows me can tell you that my dog, Taco, is like a member of the family.  Just look at those big brown eyes!

Although many pet owners, like myself, consider their animals to be much more than just pieces of property, North Carolina courts see things differently.  Under North Carolina law, pets are considered personal property.  When a couple divorces, the court divides their property in a way that it determines to be equitable based on the economic value of the couple’s marital estate.  The law does not require the court to consider non-economic factors, like the sentimental value of a pet.  As a result, if left up to the judge, who ends up with the pet will be influenced by the overall value of the property distributed to each party – not necessarily who feeds, walks and loves it the most.

While the law would require a judge to make a decision to simply distribute the pet to one spouse or the other, parties have more flexibility if they can reach an agreement about what they would like to happen to their pet.  For instance, the parties could agree to continue jointly owning the pet and share time on a specified schedule after their divorce.  Another option might be for the parties to agree that one spouse could have the pet as his/her property, but in the event that person became unable or unwilling to care for the pet, ownership would be transferred to his/her former spouse.

Even though North Carolina law doesn’t consider it a relevant factor when it comes to property division, every pet owner knows what great affection these animals can engender.  No matter the species, when contemplating divorce, avoiding the possibility of an unexpected separation from this cherished part of the family can best be avoided by working out a plan in advance that satisfies both spouses.

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