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Ownership and caregiving influence pet custody in a divorce

On Behalf of | Nov 3, 2021 | Divorce |

People in Delaware regard their pets as members of their families due to strong emotional ties with the animals. As an owner, your concern for your pet will loom large should you decide to get a divorce. The question of pet custody may feel similar to child custody because the pet depends on your care and you love the animal. However, family law does not view pets in the same way as children.

Dogs are property

Delaware directly labels dogs as personal property. As a result, they would be technically part of the division of property. Documented proof of ownership could go a long way toward convincing a judge to grant you custody of a dog.

A receipt from a breeder, pet adoption agency or pet store that shows that you purchased the animal would indicate that you are indeed the owner. However, when this documentation is missing, you might illustrate your connection to the animal with:

  • Receipts for veterinary care
  • Receipts for pet grooming
  • Receipts for pet boarding/sitting
  • Proof of pet care

Documented ownership on its own is not always enough to decide a dispute over marital property. Perhaps your former spouse actually bought the pet and can prove it, but you are the person who provides all or the majority of care.

Judges are not automatically unsympathetic to the bond that forms between the person who cares for a pet every day. Indeed, the pet may be emotionally bonded with the caregiver more than the documented owner.

Pet quality of life

Although the law views dogs and other animals as property, judges understand that a living organism is at the heart of the question. The issue of who can provide a home and lifestyle that best suits the pet’s physical and emotional needs may decide the question. The possibility of shared custody or visitation exists as well. This may present a viable solution if losing all contact with a pet appears to be the only alternative.