Who Gets the Family Pet in a Tennessee Divorce?

When a couple goes through a divorce, they must decide who the children will live with, how will keep the house, and how much alimony and child support one spouse must pay to the other. Additionally, many families must also decide who gets to keep the family pet.

Whether it’s a dog, cat, parrot, or hamster, these animals bring a significant amount of joy to their human caretakers. Although pets in most states are part of the property division process, more and more states have started treating these four-legged companions just like kids in child custody matters.

Alaska became the first state to enact a law which requires courts to consider the best interests of the animal in pet custody cases in 2017. In 2018, Illinois became the second state. Not only does this mean the court determine who maintains primary custody of the pet, but also it must approve parenting plans and visitation schedules.

In Tennessee, however, pets are not treated as humans. These animals are divided in the same manner as homes, vehicles, cash, jewelry, collectibles, and other personal items.

Tennessee is an equitable distribution state, meaning all marital property is divided in a fair manner.

The following are the factors the court will consider when awarding possession of the family pet:

  1. Ownership of the animal (whether the pet was adopted by one person before marriage or by both parties during marriage)
  2. Who takes care of the animal (i.e. cleaning, feeding, walking)?
  3. Who pays for the animal’s shelter, food, and medical needs?
  4. Who has primary custody of the children—since the kids may rely on the pet for emotional support during and after the divorce?
  5. Who has the most appropriate residence/environment for the animal?

If you are interested in keeping the family pet but anticipate a hotly contested dispute, our Clarksville divorce lawyers at Patton | Pittman Attorneys can help you build a strong case to help you obtain the best possible outcome. For more information, contact us and schedule a free consultation today.

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