Who Gets Your Pets in a Divorce?

One complicated divorce topic is deciding who gets your pets when you break up. This issue can be confusing and contentious, as both parties involved may be attached to their pets.

pets in a divorce

Splitting Custody

When it comes to children, Missouri has a variety of guidelines. What generally happens is that both parents have custody, and the kids move back and forth between homes. Other times, they will stay with one parent nearly all of the time, but the other has visitation privileges. The precise nature of your custody deal depends on a variety of factors. 

Splitting Property

Splitting property is different in that with most physical items, one party takes full control. Rather than a complicated custody agreement, the couple will negotiate and decide which of them should own that item going forward. 

Which Framework Do Your Pets Fall Into?

As much as you love your pets, they will generally fall under the property framework, rather than custody. The reason is that the latter is almost always reserved for children, and every other possession you own is property. As a result, you will most likely have to decide who will take the pet full time. 

An Easy Way to Decide

In most situations, one party is clearly closer to the pet than the other. That person might take care of feeding, walking, and other maintenance tasks, or have a closer bond in general. The best way to resolve these situations is to give the pet to the more devoted party. The other person should not try to obtain ownership out of pettiness or spite. 


Of course, there might not be a definite candidate for taking on the pet full time. Perhaps you and your spouse both love it equally and will have a tough time deciding. In this case, you will negotiate just like you would for any other item. If you have two pets, you might each get one of them. Alternatively, you could give up this piece of property, but get something else that you deeply care about. Couples can also settle on custody arrangements for pets, though doing so is not as common. 

What Happens if You Can’t Agree

Not agreeing on divorce terms will require you to go to court. If a crucial point of disagreement is pet ownership, you will discuss it with a judge. Some factors that might go into the ruling include who purchased the pet, who cared for it most, and which party has the stronger relationship with it. 

One of the worst things that can happen when you split up with your spouse is getting a bad deal. A way in which that sometimes happens is people losing access to pets that they love. Fortunately, you can likely avoid that scenario with the help of an experienced St. Louis divorce lawyer. At the very least, you should end up with a deal that is fair and balanced. 

Speak With an Experienced Attorney

Our firm uses experience, good communication, and availability to help families navigate life-changing events.