If you are like most Texans with a pet, you probably love your dog or cat like a member of your family. They may not be an actual child, but you may feel a similar degree of devotion to and responsibility for the animals you have brought into your family as you do for your children.
For some people, the hardest part of getting a divorce is the risk of losing the relationship they cherish with their companion animals or pets. They probably know that the Texas courts will protect their right to a certain share of the household assets and their relationship with their children, but what happens with a pet is often less clear.
In the eyes of the courts, your pet is a possession with a fixed financial value
You probably couldn’t put a price tag on your pet if you tried to. In addition to what you paid for their purchase or adoption, you have also invested hundreds of dollars in their care and upkeep, to say nothing of veterinary bills and the time you have spent training them and enriching their lives with play and companionship. Your pet may be worth tens of thousands of dollars in terms of the time invested and the emotional value they have to you.
However, for the purposes of the Texas family courts, your pet is merely an asset that you own. The courts will consider animals property. Whether the pet is community or separate property will depend on when and how you acquired it. If you owned it before marriage, if you inherited it, or if it was given to you as a gift, it is your separate property. But if you bought it or adopted it during the marriage, it is probably community property. In other words, both spouses would have an ownership interest in the animal.
The courts will try to determine a value for the animal. The price of purchasing a new kitten or puppy in that breed may be the price that they set, unless the animal has a history of successful breeding or awards, in which case they may consider a special, higher valuation for the animal. Like with any other marital asset, the courts will award it to one spouse or the other.
The only way to share custody is to make arrangements outside of court
If you want to retain ownership of any of the animals that you cared for during your marriage, it is often in your best interest to set amicable terms with your ex, if possible. The only real way to have a legally binding shared custody arrangement with a pet is through a legal settlement that you both sign and provide to the courts.
The courts will not rule on an animal’s custody in the way that they will a child’s. They will simply allocate the pet as an asset to one spouse or the other.