A pet means a lot of different things to different people. Some people have animals for companionship; other keep them to help on the farm or to go hunting with, or to add another layer of security in their homes. Regardless, the reasons for owning a pet or working animal may prove important when it comes to dividing your property in the event of a divorce. For some people, that can be a bitter pill to swallow.
Pets, unlike children, are considered property
When you get divorced in Mississippi, all of your marital property is divided equitably – not equally. As we explain on our website, the process goes like this:
- The court classifies the property (which includes debts and assets) as either marital or non-martial. Most of the time marital property is limited to that which was accumulated by both parties during the course of the marriage and non-martial property is limited to that which was brought into the marriage by one specific spouse.
- The court then looks at the marital property and divides it equitably between the two spouses using what are referred to as the “Ferguson factors.”
- Only then is alimony determined if necessary after equitable distribution.
If you and your spouse adopted or purchased a pet during your marriage, that pet is considered marital property, which means Fido could be awarded to one spouse or the other. Unlike with your children, there is no guarantee you will be entitled to see your pet if the animal is awarded to the other person.
How the judge makes the determination
In some cases, the decision might be a bit more obvious: if you and your spouse live on a farm and you are leaving to live in the city, a working dog will likely be awarded to your spouse, who will continue to need that animal’s services. When a pet is truly a pet – a dog or a cat which provided companionship – then it becomes trickier to decide. In some cases, a couple may choose to include such information in a pre-nuptial agreement or in their marital settlement agreement. When that is not an option, more and more judges in Mississippi and around the country are looking into the same types of factors they would for determining child custody:
- Which spouse is better suited to raise the pet, and to handle any financial needs such as grooming, vaccinations and food?
- Which spouse is able to provide the pet with a comfortable existence, such as a roof over its head and toys and games to keep the pet engaged or occupied?
- Do either of you have a history of being abusive towards animals, either your own or other people’s?
These are just a sampling of the factors the judge may consider in determining who will keep the family pet in a divorce, but it is by no means the only way. If it is important to you that you keep your dog or cat, a skilled Southaven divorce attorney from Taylor Jones Taylor may be able to help. Please contact us to make an appointment at one of our offices in Southaven, Hernando and Olive Branch.