Pet Custody Attorney

What are your state's pet custody laws? Who gets your pet?

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The Animal Law Firm’s animal lawyers are tried and tested when it comes to pet custody disputes. Even though you can’t technically have custody of a pet because pets are treated as property by the court, legal disputes can arise over who has a lawful right to keep the pet as property. If you and your partner split up and a pet is something you both love, these “pet custody” battles can get really intense. The court will be left to determine who should retain ownership of the pet, which means you may have to supply evidence to prove you are the owner.

How Pet Custody Is Determined in Court

Broadly speaking, the court will consider three primary factors as they work to determine who has ownership of the pet. More specifically, the court will examine:

  • Which party purchased or adopted the animal
  • Whether the animal has a clear, primary caretaker
  • Which party can provide the pet with the best quality of life

To address these factors, the court will expect an array of evidence from both parties. Simply put, the judge will not accept your word as proof. You’ll need to supply as much paperwork and documentation as possible to prove you are the primary owner. You may even consider adding witness testimony, whenever relevant.

Although your pet is legally treated as property, their wellbeing will generally be taken into account by the court system. If the court determines that you are unable to provide your pet an adequate quality of life as compared to your ex-partner, then it is unlikely to grant you ownership over the pet moving forward.

However, it is worth noting that some judges place more weight on their determination regarding which owner can provide the pet with the best possible life, while others remain concerned with who has legal ownership over the pet. An animal lawyer is your best resource for industry knowledge regarding the way judges in your area typically approach issues of animal ownership. Then, together you can gather the most convincing evidence to help you earn custody over the animal.

What Evidence Should You Show to Demonstrate Ownership of a Pet?

The most fundamental proof of pet custody involves showing you are the individual who either adopted or purchased the pet. If you have proof you are the original owner, you are likely at a significant advantage. You will need to gather documentation to prove this ownership to the court.

However, if you are not the party who originally purchased or adopted the animal, your case isn’t hopeless. If the animal’s original owner has left all care to you, it can be useful to demonstrate to the court that you are the animal’s primary caretaker. Even if you weren’t the one to adopt the animal, acting as its primary caretaker might be enough to demonstrate that ownership should lie with you, rather than the person who initially performed the purchase or adoption. Again, you must substantiate this claim with evidence.

To provide evidence, there are a few things you should supply to your animal lawyer. If you originally adopted the pet or you are listed as the owner of the pet at the vet’s office, these are things that could help during your animal custody case. Bring along the following documents that can support your claim if you were the person listed as the owner:

  • ​Proof that you are the pet’s actual owner with a purchase/adoption contract and receipt of purchase (credit card receipt, canceled check, ATM cash withdrawal, etc.)
  • Receipts to prove what you have paid for pet care
  • Microchip registry information, including your contact information as the registered owner
  • City or county pet ownership registries
  • Vet records, particularly rabies and other vaccination records that show you as the pet’s owner

If you have been the primary care provider for the pet, gather evidence to support how much you paid. Consider receipts for things like:

  • Pet food and treats
  • Vet care
  • Grooming needs
  • Pet-sitting, pet boarding, or pet walking
  • Training

Any documentation you can provide to show how much you personally paid for the care of the animal and did not get reimbursed from your partner could help you in court.

Sometimes, a court will listen to evidence of who walked the dog, who played with the dog, who spent extra time with a dog. It is good to provide your animal lawyer with the names of independent witnesses who can testify to your care of and time spent with the dog.

Creating a Pet “Ante-Nuptial” Agreement

If you’re new to pet ownership or beginning a new relationship and would like to avoid the hassle of establishing custody over a pet in the future, it is wise to draft a pet “ante-nuptial” agreement. This document can be created as a precaution, should you and your partner ever separate. With a pet ante-nuptial agreement already in place, it will be quicker and easier to determine who has rightful ownership over the animal.

A pet ante-nuptial agreement can consider a variety of factors, including:

  • In the case of divorce or separation, which party will receive residential custody over the animal?
  • Will the other individual be permitted visitation? How much, and what would the visitation schedule look like?
  • Which party will be responsible for transporting the pet during visitation?
  • How will pet expenses be handled from this point forward? Who will pay for things like veterinary costs, food, and grooming?
  • If the pet ever encounters any major medical issues, will the separated parties be jointly responsible for making decisions about care? If the animal develops a fatal illness, who will have a say over whether to resort to euthanasia?

You might also choose to include other end-of-life factors like cremation or burial expenses, and which party will be responsible for covering those costs. If the pet is to be cremated, you may also want to decide who keeps the ashes.

While a pet ante-nuptial agreement is certainly not a requirement, it can be a smart precaution to take should you and your partner ever separate. This document could save you a great deal of time and emotional energy.

Contact a Pet Custody Attorney

Call our our animal lawyers at The Animal Law Firm at 1-844-PET-LAWYER (1-844-738-5299) in Colorado, New York, New Jersey, and Texas to find out how we can help get your pet back in your arms!



We know how important your furry family member is to you. Whether they have no legs, two legs, or four or more legs, our priority is making sure you and your pet receive the best representation possible.

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