What Happens To My Dog, Cat, Or Hedgehog In A Divorce?

Luke Baker P.A. offers his advice on NC DWI Law - To Blow or Not to Blow?

Our pets can be our best friends, protectors, and cuddle buddies. They entertain us with their antics, display unrestrained joy when we arrive home, and comfort us when we have the blues. We consider them members of the family. So what happens to our furry, scaly, pokey, and hairy friends in the event of a divorce? Regrettably, the laws of North Carolina are stuck in the days of old when animals were thought of as mere property-on the same level as a necklace or an old Ikea couch.

Some states have begun embracing a more progressive trend towards considering the best interest of the pet and granting visitation to the non-custodial pet parent, but North Carolina continues to solely consider the pet's worth as its fair market value on the date of the separation. This is often a negligible amount and clearly does not reflect the intrinsic worth of the pet to either party. Based upon an equitable distribution of property, the court will determine whether the pet goes to one party or the other.

In a divorce, which is already inherently fraught with emotion, the issue of pets can evolve into a volatile subject. Rather than leaving it to the court's discretion, it is preferable to reach a written agreement that the court will honor. Some of the issues you should consider:


If you both insist upon having custody, try working out a schedule; perhaps the pet can switch every other week or month. Think through this thoroughly to ensure that the schedule will practically work for everyone. If you have children, try to keep pets and children on the same schedule. Kids bond deeply with their pets, and having their buddies close by may help them better adapt to the changes that divorce brings.


Who will pay for the food? Will you equally share the vet bills, emergency surgeries, and costs of caring for your pet in her or his golden years?


Who primarily cared for the pet? Did your pet have a closer relationship with one person? Try to be empathetic and truly seek the best interest of your little friend.


If you would like to speak to one of our experienced divorce or family lawyers, contact our Concord, NC office today.

This article is for informational purposes only and should not be considered as legal advice.

1Deborah Rook, "Who Gets Charlie? The Emergence of Pet Custody Disputes in Family Law: Adapting Theoretical Tools from Child Law,"Int J Law Policy Family (2014) 28 (2): 177-193 first published online June 16, 2014, http://lawfam.oxfordjournals.org/content/28/2/177.full.