As a couples counselor, I meet with couples who are often struggling with their relationship and need a third party to help bring clarity to the situation. Sometimes, though, ingrained relationship problems can result in the end of the relationship or divorce, in the case of married couples. There is a lot to be determined when it comes to the best way to amicably separate. The often unheard story is how to manage the pets. Below, our friend and contributor Brandy Austin, Esq. gives us some insight into this emotionally difficult, all too often court-decided issue.
The other day I had an opportunity to sit in Court and listen in on a hearing involving what I believed was a custody dispute. The parties and their attorneys went back and forth regarding who provided care, food and a consistent schedule. It was only when I heard someone say they primarily let her out to use the bathroom that I realized the parties were not referring to a two-legged child. In fact, the her they were referring to was actually a dog. In Texas, divorce courts can be a little indifferent when it comes to issues with four-legged children. If you and your spouse have a four-legged child, Texas will allow you and your spouse to negotiate terms regarding the animal however do not expect the court to treat your four-legged child like a two-legged one.
Like many states, Texas law treats pets like property, no matter how much you want to convince the court that your pet is a family member. Texas is a community property state, so if you and your spouse are fighting over “custody” of the animal then Texas will put a price tag on your pet, if you acquired your animal during the marriage. If you acquired your animal prior to the marriage or through inheritance then, he/she is your separate property and the court will not get involved. If your animal is treated as community property, and you get the animal then your spouse must receive a different asset of comparable value or you may be required to sell the animal so you and your spouse can share the proceeds.
BUT WHAT ABOUT CUSTODY OR VISITATION?
So, back to my story. I sat there pondering what the Judge was going to do with the custody dispute regarding the dog. Would the Judge address custody or visitation with the dog? Would the Judge order some sort of dog-support? Neither. The Judge cannot address custody or visitation nor can the Judge order dog support. So what did the Judge do? The Judge decided which spouse received the dog based on issues similar to child custody factors (i.e. best interest). This was the reason for the parties testifying on who did what with the dog. The history behind who cared for the dog during the marriage was enough for the Judge to decide who would get the dog.
The particular case is not an anomaly regarding family law. In fact, family law is littered with cases involving divorce and four-legged friends. Take for instance Arrington v. Arrington
, 613 S.W.2d 565 (Tex. Civ. App. 1981), the court treated the dog as property first, then allowed a ruling based on some sort of best interest reasoning. If you have a four-legged loved one and are contemplating divorce, please contact a skilled divorce lawyer Arlington TX