A common question we receive from clients is “who gets the pets in a divorce in North Carolina?” While most people consider pets family members, North Carolina considers pets as property. This means that the court will treat them the same as they would treat a car or a piece of furniture. Similarly to any other marital property, the court will look at the value of the pet and award it to one party, while awarding something else to the other party.
Distributing property in divorce can be a very extensive and complex step in the divorce process. It can be even more complicated when something so close to the heart, such as a pet, becomes involved. It is very rare that a pet is considered with the same amount of emotion as a couch.
What if I Bought the Pet Before Marriage?
If you bought your pet before you got married, the pet will most likely be considered separate property and your spouse would not be able to challenge the custody of it. That being said, if you purchased your pet during the marriage, it would be considered marital property and would be subject to distribution.
Can my Spouse and I Come to an Agreement?
The best way to deal with pet custody is to come to an agreement with your spouse rather than leaving it up to the court to decide. This allows you to have more control over where your pet ends up, safeguards you from discretion of the judge, and not to mention, it saves you time and money.
You can have your attorney incorporate a pet custody agreement into your separation agreement. This pet agreement can include what vet you want the pet to see, when and where the other party may have the pet, and who will pay the pet’s expenses (as there is no much thing as pet support in North Carolina).
If you prefer not to share custody with your spouse, you can simply decide who keeps the pet. While doing this, you may want to consider who usually took care of the pet, who initially acquired the pet, and where the pet would be living. If your spouse is not going to have ample space or time to take care of the pet, it may be best for you to have custody.
If there are children involved in your divorce, it may be a good idea to allow the pets to follow the children in their custody schedule. Allowing this will create a sense of stability and help them adapt to their new situations.