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Who Gets Fido? Divorce and Pets


When couples divorce, deciding what to do with the family pet can often feel more like determining parental rights than simply dividing a marital asset. In our hearts and minds, pets are not possessions, but beloved companions and important members of our family. However, per Colorado law, the family pet is considered to be marital property, and as an asset, it is subject to division in much the same way as the couple’s dining room furniture.

Pet Custody Disputes on the Rise

While they aren’t the same species as us, our furry friends make up an important part of our families. In the eyes of the law, animals are considered property, and According to an American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) survey, pet custody cases are on the rise. Over a quarter of the respondents noted an increase in the amount of divorcing couples who fight over who gets to keep their pets.

The fights aren’t always over the pets themselves; in some cases, the animal is used as attempted leverage. “While pet custody cases are not an everyday occurrence, far too many spouses attempt to initiate these disputes as a negotiating strategy, often believing that they can use the animal as a kind of bargaining chip,” said AAML president Maria Cognetti.

When the court needs to intervene and decide who gets to keep the pet, there are several questions you should be prepared to answer when fighting for the right to keep them.

Who is primarily in charge of caring for the pet?

The person primarily in charge of feeding, cleaning, walking, and taking the pet to the veterinarian has a strong case to make for keeping the pet. If that person is you, collect your receipts from pet supply stores, get your neighbors to back up your claim that you are primarily seen walking your pet, and get a signed note from your veterinarian stating that you are the one who regularly brings in your pet for checkups and treatment.

Who will have primary custody of the children?

In cases where children are involved, the court may grant custody of the pet to the parent who receives primary custody of their children. Because courts attempt to base their rulings based on what is best for the children, they are unlikely to separate them from their pet after their parents have just divorced.

Who owned the pet before the marriage?

If you owned your pet before you married your spouse, especially if you owned it before you and your spouse started dating, there is a good chance that the court will rule in your favor.

When you’re heading into a divorce, too much is on the line for you to go in without an experienced family lawyer on your side. At The Harris Law Firm, our Colorado pet custody attorneys are prepared to deal with any aspect of your divorce and will work with you to prepare a plan that will provide you the most beneficial outcome. Contact us today through our online form, or call us at (303) 622-5502 to set up a meeting with one of our attorneys.

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