How Courts View Pets
Divorce is stressful enough without having to worry about if you will lose your pet in the process. Although pet parents love and care for their pets as family members, courts do not decide who your pet spends time with after a divorce in the same way courts decide child custody.
When a couple decides to get divorced, they will need to decide how to divide their property. In Oregon, dogs, cats, and all other animals are considered personal property. This means that like all other property, pets are included in the division of marital assets.
In the law, it is assumed that all property acquired prior to the marriage belongs to the person who acquired that property. This can apply to pets - if you adopted your pet before you met your spouse, you will likely be able to retain ownership of your pet after the divorce.
What to Do if You Are Worried About Losing Ownership of Your Pet
If both parties can resolve some or all disputes relating to their separation matter without court intervention, they will enter into a settlement agreement for these decisions. The parties will then notify the court they have reached an agreement and the court will finalize the decision into a judgment at a hearing.
1. Decide one person will keep the pet.
If you want to keep your pet after the divorce and your spouse does not object to this, you can communicate this to the court in your settlement agreement. The court can include this decision in your judgment order, finalizing the agreement, and ensuring your pet will remain with you.
2. Create a visitation schedule.
If your spouse objects to your desire to keep your pet, you still have options to pursue. As with children after a divorce, parties can work out a pet visitation schedule to include in their settlement agreement. However, it is important to remember that there is no Oregon law requiring the court to order visitation for a pet, so this is something you will have to advocate for.
The visitation schedule may state one pet parent retains ownership of your pet, but the other pet parent has scheduled visits. It could also include rules for when the other pet parent cares for the pet. Regardless of what works best for your unique situation, it is important to keep in mind how frequent traveling or switching between environments may affect an animal.
What if an Agreement Cannot Be Reached?
If parties cannot reach an agreement on who will take the pet, the court will make this decision. Some things the court may consider when deciding who will keep the pet are:
- When was the pet adopted? By whom?
- Who is the pet bonded to?
- Is the pet an emotional support animal for one party?
- If there are kids involved in your divorce case, should the pet stay with the kids?
- If there are multiple pets, should all animals stay together?
- Who has the time to meet the pet’s needs? Who has been in charge of caring for the pet during the relationship?
- Who has resources sufficient for the pet’s needs?
In Oregon, there are not any strict guidelines or laws for deciding who retains ownership of a pet after a divorce or separation. Despite this, there are steps you can take to make it more likely your pet will stay with you.
If you have questions about pet ownership or any other aspect of your family law case, reach out to The Commons Law Center about how we can help.