Is There Such a Thing as “Pet Custody” in a Texas Divorce?

The status of a “pet” in a marriage is on the rise. Increasingly, pets are an integral part of the family make-up. They’ve been with parents through dating, marriage, and children. They’ve comforted crying kids and cuddled with the family on movie night. Surely, the courts recognize that pets aren’t just property, right?

Well . . .

Wrong. In some states, such as Illinois, Alaska, and now California, laws have been enacted to treat the division of pets as more than just a piece of property that only one person gets upon separation. Imagine how crushing this would be to know that you’ve raised a pet for the greater part of a decade, only to realize you won’t get to live with that pet anymore. But for most states, Texas included, this is the reality that many separating parents face.

So how does it work?

Texas treats pets as any other asset or debt a party has. Since Texas is a community property state, assets and debts acquired during the marriage will be divided equally. Therefore, if the pet was adopted or purchased during marriage, it will be assigned a value. The pet will be assigned a value at divorce, and the person who doesn’t receive the dog as part of the divorce will get something else of equal value. In the worst case scenario, if the dog was acquired before the marriage, it won’t be considered part of the community at all. The owner of the dog prior to marriage will remain the owner after marriage.

The court rules

Many people might wonder: how can this be? We have so much emotional investment assigned to a pet. Many divorcing couples, recognizing that the courts can’t make decisions about pets outside of what was outlined above, may seek collaborative solutions to dividing the pet. The court, after all, can enforce an agreement of the parties as a court order. So while they can’t make affirmative orders deciding on a custody or support plan, they will enforce terms if the couple can agree on them. If “paw”rents want to arrange a visitation plan, and agree on how to share expenses, the court can make that an order. If pet parents are serious about maintaining the relationship with their pet, they will find a way to come to an agreement so that the pet can remain in both of their lives.

SupportPay Can Help

For parents who can agree to support their pet after divorce, SupportPay is the perfect tool to help pet parents organize the shared expenses associated with their pet, or any communication related to caring for the pet. Even if pet parents don’t agree on a formal, enforceable court order to govern their relationship, they can still use a platform like SupportPay to keep organized. This way, they can track expenses, track reimbursements, and keep track of all their correspondence. In the event the parties ever need to attend court to enforce terms of their order, all of the evidence about payments and communication is right there in the platform. Ultimately, this encourages collaboration and discourages conflict, keeping your pet happy, healthy, and supported.

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