Although pets feel like family, they are considered property for the purposes of a divorce. That means like all property, if the pet was purchased (or adopted) during the course of the marriage, the pet is considered community property. If the pet was acquired prior to the marriage, then the pet is the separate property of the person who brought it into the marriage, regardless of who cared more for the pet, or paid for the pet during the marriage. Gifts and inheritance are also separate property, so if the pet was given to one party, or acquired through inheritance, then the pet will belong to the party to whom the pet was given.
Usually, parties come to an agreement regarding the care of the pet, with one person receiving the pet full time. As with most issues in a divorce, however, if the parties come to a different agreement, the court will generally approve the parties’ wishes. For example, parties occasionally reach agreements in which both spouses see the pet on alternating schedules.
Because pets are property the value of the pet is considered during the division of the martial estate. During a divorce both parties prepare an inventory of all of the belongings, assets and debts and the determine how to split them up. The monetary value of the items awarded to each party is considered in determining whether the property division is fair to both parties. The value of the pet will be included in this consideration. Although our pets are often priceless to us, the monetary value is usually nothing, or very small, except in very rare cases of purebred animals. Then the value of the animal is usually based on the market price, or how much someone would buy it for.