If you and your ex share a pet together, calling the relationship quits brings up a huge question: Who should keep the animal?

To determine this, consider these three questions.

Who does the animal LEGALLY belong to?

If the pet in question was purchased by or gifted to you individually, before you were married, the pet is your personal property. If your pet became a member of the family after you and your ex married, then the pet is considered marital property and is subject to division in a divorce.

Who should the animal belong to?

If your pet was purchased after the two of you were married, you can agree on who the pet should belong to or ask the judge to make the decision in court. Both you and the judge should consider the following before making a choice:

  • Who purchased the animal
  • Who covers the expense of the animal’s basic needs — food, vaccinations, medications, grooming, etc.
  • Who takes care of the animal’s needs — feeding the animal, letting it out, walking it and playing with it, etc.
  • Who is able to tend to the animal’s needs

You should also remember that the division of the property you and your ex share should be equitable. That means if you get the animal, your ex will get to keep something of similar value and vice versa.

Can you care for the animal after divorce?

Especially for those with multiple pets, you should consider whether you can continue to care for the animal(s) without your partner’s help. If not, it may make the most sense to find other plans for the animal.

Are you prepared with negotiations?

If you and your ex both believe you have the right to keep the animal, you’ll need expert legal representation to help you make negotiations in your favor. An experienced lawyer can help you do everything you can to get the best outcome of your case.