For most people, pets are seen as beloved family members. A bond formed with a pet is something that cannot be easily replaced. Because of this, problems can arise when determining who will get custody of a pet in a separation or divorce.

How does North Carolina law view pets?

Under North Carolina law, pets are considered to be property. Generally, in this state, property purchased during the marriage is considered marital property and subject to distribution by a judge. If a pet was purchased or acquired prior to the marriage, the pet will typically be considered the property of the spouse that purchased or acquired the pet. If the pet was either purchased or gifted to a spouse during the marriage, it would be considered marital property, which may make it more difficult to reach an agreement. 

If a couple cannot reach an agreement over a pet, courts will take into consideration the value of the pet when deciding to whom the pet will go. Once the value is determined, the pet will be compared with other marital assets. The court may also take into consideration which spouse primarily took care of the pet during the marriage and which spouse is better suited to continue to care for the pet.

Do pet custody agreements exist?

Yes, they do. If both spouses want custody of the pet, it can be easier to sign a pet custody agreement rather than having the court decide. Similar to a child custody agreement, a pet custody agreement typically includes a visitation schedule and details on how various pet-related expenses will be handled. Pet custody agreements are legally binding contracts. The parties can also put their agreement terms in the form of a consent order, meaning that a judge can intervene if necessary to enforce a visitation schedule or any other agreed-upon items.

Regardless of how a couple chooses to handle pet custody, it is important to consult with an experienced family law attorney when dealing with matters of this nature. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.