How are pets handled in a Tennessee divorce?

Tennessee law views pets as property, even though many people view them as family. Pet custody disputes can make divorce more complicated.

According to the Humane Society of the United States, about 62 percent of U.S. households have at least one pet. The American Pet Products Association reports that people in the U.S. spend more than $50 billion annually on pet products, which shows that pets are beloved members of people's families. This can create problems when families split up after a divorce. A survey conducted by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers in 2014 revealed that more than 25 percent of attorneys have reported an increase in the number of pet custody dispute cases in the past five years. People are beginning to battle for custody of pets in the same way parents battle for custody of children. People should understand how the law views pets in divorce cases and how they can keep their pets during a divorce.

Personal property

While pet owners may look at their pets as members of their families, Tennessee law considers pets as personal property. In some cases, if people own purebred animals and breed animals to sell, their pets may also be business assets. Sometimes spouses will try to use their spouses' affections for their pets against their spouses. They may threaten to try to take the pets unless spouses agree to give up other assets in the property division or give in to other demands.

Because pets are property, people can take steps to protect ownership in the same manner they protect other property. People can include their pets in premarital agreements, making sure that they will retain ownership of their pets in the event of divorce. Those who are already married, or acquire pets after marriage, may want to consider drafting postnuptial agreements that spell out pet ownership in case of divorce.

Determining pet custody

In the event that a couple cannot agree about who gets custody of a pet, the court will have to make a decision. Some of the things that people can show the court to demonstrate that they should have custody of their pets include:

  • They owned the pets prior to their marriages
  • They were the ones who cared for the pets on a daily basis
  • They were the ones who regularly brought the pets to the vet
  • They have more flexible work schedules better suited to pet ownership

Talk to a lawyer

Pet ownership is just one of the many things over which divorcing couples can disagree. Those going through divorce need someone on their side to advocate for them and to help resolve issues. If you have questions about divorce, speak with a seasoned Tennessee divorce attorney who can help you with your specific concerns.

Keywords: divorce; property division; family law