Pet Ownership and ‘Custody’ After a North Carolina Divorce

Board Certified Family Law Specialist Matt Arnold answers the question: “What can I do to gain custody of my child in North Carolina?”


Dividing property during a divorce – also known as distribution in North Carolina – is a grueling experience. Fighting over child custody is often a disheartening and painful experience. But what about pets?

dog-with-bowl-Charlotte-Monroe-Lake-Norman-Pet-Custody-Lawyers-300x225Technically, North Carolina law treats pets as nothing more than property, though pet owners treat their dogs, cats, and other animals more like their “children.”

In child custody cases, North Carolina courts consider what is in the best interests of the child. In property division cases, meanwhile, North Carolina law is all about “equitable” distribution. Since pets are basically property in the eyes of the law, it is not uncommon for courts to give pet ownership or “custody” to the wrong spouse.

If you want to avoid this, do not hesitate to speak with a Charlotte family law attorney from Arnold & Smith, PLLC, to find the right plan for pet ownership in your divorce.


Who Gets the Pets in a North Carolina Divorce?


Only you know what is best for you and your pet, which is why you cannot and should not trust a judge, who is a complete stranger, to arrange a custody plan for your family and pet. That is why spouses with pets are encouraged to opt for a collaborative divorce to work out a custody plan themselves through mediation and negotiation.

Deciding on “who gets the pets” in a divorce through a constructive discussion between you and your spouse is often the best way to ensure a fair outcome. If a constructive discussion is not possible with your spouse, consider hiring a Charlotte divorce attorney.

Mediation is also a good option because it avoids the expense and time of bringing the issue of pet ownership and custody to court. Having mediation sessions also allows you to retain more control over the outcome. Finally, mediation is more likely to bring an arrangement with which everyone will be satisfied with the final result as they have an opportunity to voice their wants and are actively involved in the process of finding the final resolution.


Creating a Pet Custody Plan


Depending on your situation, you may want to create a “pet custody plan” that is similar to a child custody plan. This plan outlines the amount of time each party gets to spend with the pet.

If you do not want to share “pet custody,” you can decide who keeps the dog or cat based on factors such as who took care of the pet, which spouse the pet prefers, and/or other relevant details.

Like with a regular child custody plan, a pet custody agreement allows you to decide on various aspects of the pet’s life, including the type of medication, medical care, and food the animal receives, how bills will be handled, etc.

The main advantage of creating this plan among yourselves is that you have complete freedom in writing it. This kind of plan, if written with the help of a Charlotte family law attorney, will be legally binding.

Letting the judge assign pet custody would be a huge risk in a state that still treats our beloved animals as property. Seek legal help drafting your pet custody plan to make sure that it is a legally binding and enforceable agreement. If you find yourself facing a complicated family law matter and need the help of experienced family-law attorneys, speak with our detail-oriented and well-versed lawyers in or around Charlotte, Lake Norman, or at our new office in Monroe, please contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC today at (704) 370-2828 or find additional resources here.







The family law practice group at Arnold & Smith, PLLC includes two Board-Certified Family Law specialists and one Child Welfare Law specialist, as well as several attorneys with many years of family law experience that are committed to providing a powerful voice to individuals facing the often-tumultuous issues in this area of law. The range of issues our family law clients may be facing include pre- and post-nuptial agreements; separation agreements; post-separation support; child support (both temporary and permanent); absolute divorce; divorce from bed and board; military divorce; equitable distribution of assets; child custody (both temporary and permanent); retirement benefits and divorce; alimony and spousal support; adoption; and emancipation. Because this area of the law is usually emotionally charged and complicated, the family law attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC act with the utmost dedication to ensure that each client understands his or her options, and then act to achieve the best result possible for that client’s particular situation.





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