Pets and Divorce

Let's Untie the Knot | Pets and Divorce

For many people, pets are a big part of the family unit.  They take endless pictures with them, get them special toys and treats and may even celebrate their pet’s birthday.  Although people don’t equate the love that they have for their children with the affection they have for their pet, the family dog often comes in a fairly close second place. As a result, when a couple with a pet is getting divorced, the decision of who gets to keep the family pet can become a major source of contention.  

Oregon law does not treat pets as similar to children and, therefore, the process of pet ownership is not equated with custody.  Rather, pets are considered property and are treated like other possessions in a divorce.  In an ideal scenario, the two divorcing parties would be able to reach an agreement about the ownership of a pet in mediation.  Perhaps one spouse could keep the pet and the other spouse could retain ownership of another piece of property (e.g., the dining room table).  Some spouses agree to go to mediation and are able to come up with terms of a “pet parenting plan.”  That said, if you do not reach an agreement and the court needs to get involved, the court will make a decision about ownership based on equitable distribution. 

Equitable distribution is not the same as equal distribution.  The following are some factors a court may consider when determining who should be awarded ownership of the pet:

Despite whatever emotional value we give to our pets, the law in Oregon classifies them as property and distributes them as such when it comes to divorce.  Just as with child custody, it is preferable if the parties can come to an amicable agreement about what to do with their beloved pet.

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