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  • Writer's pictureRobert Schuerger II

Who Gets Pet Custody in a Tennessee Divorce? | Laws to Be Aware Of

Divorces are already one of the most emotionally taxing processes someone can go through, but things can get worse if there are children or pets involved. Each state has different rules when separating personal property and other assets, so it may be tricky to navigate the process without understanding how the law works first.

Determining who gets the family pet is often one of the hardest parts of the process. Likely, both people got too emotionally attached to the dog, which can result in many problems when deciding who gets ownership of it.

In these cases, it's crucial to hire a family law expert who can address the issue as easily as possible. There's no need to add further stress to the situation, so getting help from someone with knowledge of pet custody laws will make all the difference. Schuerger Shunnarah Trial Attorneys can also answer questions such as What to do if you get bit by a dog at work?

This page covers everything pet owners should know about dealing with pet custody after divorce.

Are Pets Community or Separate Property?

Are Pets Community or Separate Property?

The first factor to consider is how a family dog is perceived by law. In Tennessee, pets are considered personal property. At least "legally wise," pets can't be considered children, as they're treated as other assets like cars.

Does this mean that a couple's beloved pet shouldn't be treated with the same care as a child? Not necessarily. Understanding this distinction will help when negotiating which pet owner deserves to keep it the most.

Tennessee is an equitable distribution state. What this means for people is that the circumstances surrounding the adoption of the dog will play a huge role in who keeps it. Pets that were adopted before the marriage will be considered separate property.

Separate property is anything one spouse had before the marriage, whereas community property includes any assets the couple got after getting married. Schuerger Shunnarah Trial Attorneys can also advise on breed specific laws in Tennessee.

What Can Affect the Outcome of a Family Pet Custody Case?

A few circumstances can affect the destination of a pet owned by an ex-couple. If a pet or companion animal owned by one spouse was acquired before the marriage, they will have an easier time arguing they have the right to keep it.

However, if any furry friends are considered marital property, four different factors can influence who keeps them in the end:

Proof of Ownership

It's common for couples to disagree on who got the pet, especially if it happened too many years ago. In these cases, a spouse can show adoption papers, receipts, or any other related document that helps them establish who got it.

Financial Needs

Caring for a pet comes with extensive expenses. The spouse's ability to cover all of these needs, including food, care, and grooming, will influence who gets to keep it.


In some cases, one spouse was the one responsible for caring for their pet. This includes veterinary visits, walking, feeding, and grooming. If the spouse can show evidence that they took care of their pet more than the other person, they may have the upper hand when negotiating.

Living Conditions

Each party's living conditions will influence who keeps the pet. The court will evaluate who has the most suitable environment for the pet to stay safely.

What Should People Do When Negotiating Pet Ownership?

Discussing pet custody will always be tough and awkward. Thankfully, there are a few things spouses can do to ease the situation a bit:

Mediation: If neither party can agree on who gets custody, it may be a great idea to hire a third-party mediator. These people can make the discussion smoother by ensuring everyone can voice their opinion without getting too emotionally invested in the argument.

Considering the Pet's Needs: It's crucial to think about what's best for the animal. A pet should always go to the home that can provide the most stability. Likewise, it should go to whoever can spend the most time with it. In some cases, the couple may decide the dog can take a few days with each one to have a better idea of what the best option is.

Documentation: Even though it may seem obnoxious, it helps to keep documentation of everything related to the animal and its care. It may help when deciding who gets custody, especially if the case goes to court.

Prenuptial Agreements: Not many people like to think about separating before getting married, but these agreements have proven to be life-savers on some occasions. One spouse can include a provision about custody in their prenuptial agreement. This will help avoid plenty of issues later.

Legal Counsel: Determining pet custody can be confusing, so hiring someone who specializes in family law can help the spouses navigate the case without much hassle.

Which Factors Does the Court Consider When Dealing with a Pet or Companion Animal?

Besides all the factors mentioned above, courts may consider some of the following elements before assigning pet custody:

  • Who pays for the pet

  • Who spends the most time with the pet

  • Whether either spouse has a history of animal abuse

  • Who has primary custody of children (if there are children involved)

  • Whether the children will be affected by losing the family pet

  • Whether the pet is a service or emotional support animal

The last element is especially important when negotiating. If the pet is a service/emotional support animal, it can't be separated from the owner, as it serves a medical need. In these cases, the owner must show the right certification/documentation to prove it.

Is Hiring a Lawyer Necessary When Discussing Marital Property?

Is Hiring a Lawyer Necessary When Discussing Marital Property?

Absolutely. Getting legal counsel will help both parties avoid several headaches down the road.

Negotiating without legal professionals present can become a problem, especially since there are many strong emotions involved in divorces. By getting help from an animal attack lawyer in Nashville, the couple will get a new and unbiased perspective on the situation, which could make the process smoother.

Bottom Line

It's not easy to determine pet custody based on simple factors like "who loves the dog more." Usually, this is a process that requires the help of an expert to ensure there's no more bad blood between the parties involved.

The experts at Schuerger Shunnarah Trial Attorneys have the knowledge necessary to help divorcing couples deal with their family pets in the most comprehensive way possible. Whether clients want someone to help during mediation or gather evidence for later, these legal professionals will know what to do.


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