For many North Carolina families, pets are a major conundrum when ending a marriage. Who “gets” a beloved dog or cat can be one of the most emotional issues in a divorce, and it can lead to significant conflict between parties. There are a few things individuals and couples should know when going into a divorce with a shared furry friend.
Under the law, pets are considered property
To understand how a pet might be seen by the courts, it is important to understand how the applicable state laws treat property in divorce proceedings. North Carolina is an equitable distribution state (rather than a community property state), so rather than automatically splitting marital assets 50/50, a former couple must divide property in a way that is considered equitable. This might mean that if a pet is in the mix, the person keeping the pet may forgo other property. This is a significant difference from how shared children are treated, where the custodial parent may actually get support for maintaining custody.
Sharing pets may be an option
There are essentially three ways to deal with pets after divorce: rehome them, share them between homes, or give one party full ownership of them. Sharing a pet between households can be easy in some cases, and hard in others. If it is possible for both parties to maintain the same general routine for the pets and agree to how they will be cared for, a shared arrangement is possible. However, it can become complex as life goes on, particularly if one party moves out of state.
Like many things in a divorce, it is usually best to deal with issues around pets through mediation and without courts getting involved. Judges may differ in how they look at the issue of pets, and may consider different factors depending on their perspective. Regardless of whether one would like to work it out through mediation or needs to bring it in front of a court, a North Carolina attorney is an important person to have on hand to support the process.