Some people view their beloved pet as family. This often causes contention in a divorce proceeding in regards to who will have the rights to the family pet in the end. Some refer to this as “pet custody.”

Minnesota does not have “pet custody” laws. Rather, pets are treated as property in the divorce process.

What does this mean?

Property in a divorce is divided based on a “fair and equitable” standard. The law spells out what a Court must consider in allocating marital property, and this does not take into account sentimental value or a party’s emotional investment in a pet.

A beloved companion animal (if the parties cannot agree) will be allocated to one party based on what is fair and equitable. This will be based on the value that the Court assigns to the animal (e.g., purebred dog or horse). Your spouse will then likely be compensated for part of the animal’s value by being awarded other assets. This is the same approach that the Court will take for other property like jewelry or a valuable grandfather clock.

But, if you are the one wanting the pet, you will have to argue to the Court that you should be awarded the animal. This also means that you may lose out on other property that is being argued over in the divorce.

Courts can also find that it is better to sell the animal, awarding it to neither party.

What Should I Do If I Want the Pet?

There are a few options:

Come to An Agreement

You can devise an arrangement that would allow both parties to see the animal. For a dog, this could mean that the parties alternate who has the dog on a weekly basis.

Ask the Court to Award You the Animal

As mentioned above, you could argue over the animal and see if the Court finds it fair and equitable to award you the pet.

Sell the Pet or Give the Pet up for Adoption

Basically, the parties agree to get rid of the animal so no one gets it. This is likely not an option for most because, if you are reading this blog, you are likely looking to keep or be awarded an animal at the end of the divorce. 

 Animals as the Targets of Abuse

It must also be mentioned that animals can be the targets of abuse. In the context of family law, this often presents itself with domestic abuse. Orders for Protections (OFP) help protect victims of domestic abuse. See our section on OFPs. An OFP allows you to ask a Court to award you a companion animal. However, an OFP cannot be brought on behalf of a companion animal. It must first be brought on behalf of a person with the person asking the Court, in part, to be awarded the pet.     

If you have any questions about how your pets could be divided in your divorce proceeding, please call me today at 651-647-0087 or reach out via our online contact form to set up your free consultation.

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