While some people don’t understand it, pets are like family to many of us. We may even think of them as our children or value the emotional support they provide. In other cases, animals—think livestock, exotic pets, racehorses, etc.—can be worth a lot of money. For these reasons, Texas family courts takes pet custody and prized animals very seriously during a divorce.
Animals are considered property in Texas
If you have animals that you want to keep following the divorce, you should know that the state of Texas views all animals as property or chattel. Since Texas is a community property state, any animals acquired during the marriage would typically be considered part of the community estate.
Animals owned prior to marriage or gifted to one of the parties during marriage are typically considered separate property. For example, if you adopted a pet or purchased a herd of cattle prior to getting married, the court would view those animals as your property.
Don’t underestimate the value of livestock and other valuable animals during divorce
Since we’re located in Texas—the land of massive ranches and high-end game reserves—our Fort Worth family law firm has seen its share of divorce cases involving cattle, horses, deer and a host of exotic animals. We’ve also seen clients naively say they have no issue transferring possession of animals to the other party without a second thought.
Here’s the problem with that thinking. Those clients didn’t understand how incredibly valuable the animals were and the potential income they could bring in. For example, breeding fees alone for a trophy breeder buck from one of those high-end game reserves could fetch $20,000 or more.
That’s why it’s so important to hire a law firm that understands the complexities involved with the type of community property you own. In the cases noted about, our firm was able to identify the value of livestock and other animals in question and use that insight as leverage to negotiate a better deal for our clients.
How pet custody and possession works in Texas
If you and your ex adopted a companion animal—dog, cat, bird, etc.—together, then that pet would typically be considered community property. Should you both want to keep the pet, the two of you will need to negotiate a pet custody agreement or let the judge decide who gets custody of the pet.
Judges consider several factors before they make a ruling on pet custody, including the ability of each pet parent to properly care for the pet. Other factors may include:
- Whether the pet has any special needs.
- Work and travel schedules.
- Whether either party has neglected or mistreated the pet in any way.
- What roles each party has previously played in regard to caring for the pet.
- Who is in the best position to care for the pet for the long-term.
One of the biggest factors judges consider is whether there are any children involved in the divorce. Judges typically like to keep pets with the children, and our firm agrees. We also find it can be comforting to the child if the pet travels with them from one parent’s home to the other’s. Having the pet with them consistently can also give them a sense of identity as they shuttle between homes.
These arrangements are typically included in a pet possession schedule, similar to possession schedules for children. It’s also worth noting that the Texas family courts are keener on pet visitation schedules today than they have been in the past.
Have questions about pet custody in Tarrant County, Texas?
The friendly, family law attorneys at the Sisemore Law Firm in Fort Worth are here to help. To schedule a confidential consultation with our founder Justin Sisemore, contact our firm via phone at 817.336.4444 or visit our contact page to schedule online.