Pets are very often considered part of the family. Much as child custody cases can be highly contentious, so too can pet custody be contentious following a couple's divorce. However, under Texas family law, pets are viewed as property rather than family members. This means that there are not guidelines in place that can take into account the best interest of the dog or the cat in cases of divorce.
Unfortunately, this also means that in some cases of divorce in Texas where a pre- or postnuptial agreement does not specify pet custody, and an agreement cannot be reached, a pet can be used as a pawn of revenge by an angry ex. Instances of angry exes battling in court over pet custody when relations among the couple dissolve are becoming more prevalent. Many animal advocates are hoping for the laws governing disputes of this nature to change in a direction which would consider pets to be more than mere property.
Some states are looking to enact legislation that could very well work in such a direction. While the courts would not go so far as to evaluate a pet as having the same needs as a person or child, courts are in some instances able to assign guardians in the best interest of the pet rather than the owner. Presently, these efforts primarily focus on assigning guardians in instances of animal cruelty, but some speculate this could be expanded to cases of divorce to ensure that pets end up in a loving and protective home.
One attorney in support of legislation of this nature says, "I think it can be very helpful to the court in much the same way that we appoint guardians ad litem for minor children who can't really voice their opinions or speak for themselves." Passage of related legislation in Texas or elsewhere remains to be seen. However, this trajectory could mean clearer guidelines in the future for pet custody disputes.
As with all matters pertaining to divorce, property division and custody disputes, a skilled family law attorney is crucial in advocating for an individual's rights and interests.
Source: thewesterlysun.com, "Animal rights action in Connecticut gives hope to advocates across USA," Associated Press, April 29, 2013