Do I Need a Dog Custody Lawyer

How Texas views pet custody and valuable animals during divorce

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—like livestock, exotic pets, racehorses, etc.—can be worth a lot of money. For these reasons, Texas family courts take pet custody and prized animals very seriously during divorce.

Because the emotional and financial ramifications of pet custody and distribution of property can be significant during a divorce, hiring an experienced animal custody lawyer is essential. If you’re searching for a pet custody lawyer near me or an attorney who understands the complexities involved with the valuation of livestock and other prized animals in Texas, the Sisemore Law Firm in Fort Worth is here to help.

While pet custody divorce issues are relatively common today, each situation is unique. The guidance of a knowledgeable livestock, cat or dog custody lawyer can help save you the potential grief and financial losses associated with these cases.

Understanding your options when it comes to pet custody—like executing pet custody agreements—is also important, and an attorney familiar with the legal intricacies involved with pets and divorce is the best resource for insight when beloved and/or valuable animals are concerned.

Animals are considered property in Texas

Who gets the dog in a breakup (or cat, bird, exotic animal, prized bull, etc.)? If you have animals that you want to keep following divorce, you should know that the state of Texas views all animals as property or chattel. Pet custody after breakup in Texas is dealt with much like any other piece of property you owned during marriage.

As any good dog custody lawyer will tell you, your beloved golden retriever Sassy will either be considered separate property or community property. Since Texas is a community property state, any animals acquired during 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 separate property and the other party would typically not have any claim to that property.

As with other types of community property, you can take legal steps prior to divorce to help establish what will happen to your beloved pet should your marriage end. Where the pet will reside upon separation and divorce, as well as any shared custody arrangements and directions for the pet’s care can be included in a pet custody agreement you and the other party agree to and sign prior to divorce.

 If you don’t take this step, you could risk losing custody of your pet because the court will treat the pet like a piece of property when deciding how to split marital assets during divorce—despite your emotional pleas.

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 family law lawyers in Fort Worth TX have seen our 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.

Do you need to hire a pet custody lawyer?

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.

While pets are considered property or chattel, the Texas family courts do take the welfare of the animal or animals into consideration when determining which party should get custody of a pet or whether a shared pet custody arrangement is best.

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. Consequently, if your spouse was doing all of the “heavy lifting” in regard to pet care—vet visits, exercising the animal, obedience training, feeding, grooming, etc.—it’s unlikely a judge would award custody of the pet to you.

Factors that may have an impact on pet custody 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 the child a sense of identity as the child and pet 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. If you want to ensure you are able to establish shared pet custody of your prized Persian cat, a cat custody lawyer with our firm can explain the process. Again, it’s typically best to be proactive about custody arrangements for pets and execute a pet custody agreement before you have to go to court.

Have questions about pet custody or complex property issues in Texas?

The caring, family law attorneys at the Sisemore Law Firm in Fort Worth are here to help. Whether you need a dog custody lawyer, cat custody lawyer, pet custody lawyer for exotic pets or an attorney skilled at valuating livestock and other valuable animals, we’ve been there, done that and know how to help.

As animal lovers and pet parents ourselves, we also know pet custody is a serious matter for many of our clients. You can rely on a pet custody divorce lawyer from our firm to listen to your concerns with empathy and help you achieve the best outcome possible for your case. 

To schedule a confidential consultation with our founder Justin Sisemore about your pet custody or complex property valuation concerns, contact our firm via phone at (817) 336-4444 or visit our contact page to schedule online.