Who Gets to Keep the Family Pet in My Divorce?

  • 10 Sep 2018

Getting divorced means you have to make a whole slew of decisions: When the kids are going to be with each parent, who gets to keep the house, how the financial accounts should be split up. A decision that can become just as fraught with anger and contention as child custody is figuring out where the family pet will live.

Pets are important parts of many families, regardless of if there are children involved, and people form intense connections to their dogs, cats, birds, and other furry friends. Because of these bonds, deciding with whom Fido or Missy will live isn’t usually as easy as splitting up the toaster or the cars.

In the state of Maryland, pets are considered property, just like every stick of furniture and dish located in your shared house. If you and your spouse can’t agree on who will get the family dog, the judge can make the decision for you or, in extreme circumstances, order the dog sold and the profits split. [1]

It sounds harsh, but laws haven’t quite caught up with people’s growing love for their dogs and cats. Some states, Alaska and Illinois, to be exact, have instituted laws that treat custody of pets in a similar manner to custody of children.

In these cases, the judge can consider the pet’s needs – who is most likely to take the pet for vet appointments, who can best care for any special health needs the pet may have, and which partner the pet is most bonded with – in deciding who gets to keep Spot. A judge also can award joint custody of a pet so both people can still maintain their relationship. [2]

To prevent your situation from coming to a less-than-ideal end regarding your pet, begin the discussion of who gets to keep the pet early in the divorce process. If your spouse bristles at the idea that you’ll keep Fluffy, suggest a joint custody situation, provided you both plan to live in close enough distance to make this feasible. Your pet custody schedule even can mirror the schedule you have for your children, so they always have their pet regardless of whose house they’re at.

Talk to your attorney about what is possible regarding specific conditions regarding care of your pet, such as whether it can be written into your divorce agreement that you each have to provide the same food for your pet or maintain care at your current vet’s office. You may even want to write in that medical care costs for your pet will be split, and that decisions regarding care must be arrived at jointly.

By discussing and deciding on these matters outside the courtroom, you have a better chance of arriving at a positive conclusion for you, your family, and your pet. Leaving the decision up to the judge could, under Maryland law, mean that everyone loses.

Experienced Divorce Representation in Metro Baltimore

At the Law Offices of Sandra Guzman-Salvado, we have years of experience guiding couples through the painful process of divorce, including deciding who gets to keep the family pet. We work hard to get the best resolution possible for you, and always encourage our clients to work together when possible to come to agreements outside of court. However, when out-of-court methods fail, our attorneys work tirelessly through the litigation process on your behalf. Schedule your divorce consultation today!


[1] Brenoff, Ann, “In a Nasty Divorce, Who Gets the Dog?” HuffPost.

[2] Aretsky Law Group, “Pet Custody in New Jersey Divorce,” Aretsky Law Group, P.C.

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