Although many of us consider our pets to be family members, the Texas Family Code still considers them to be property, for the purposes of a divorce. If your pet was acquired, adopted or purchased during the marriage, most likely the pet is community property. That means that a divorce court would have to decide who to “award” Fido or Fluffy to as part of a “just and right division” of the community estate. If the pet was previously owned by a spouse or given to a spouse as a gift, or inherited, then the pet is the separate property of that spouse. A court cannot divide the separate property of either party.
All of that being said, I have seen judges get very annoyed when parties are fighting over a pet. If the pet belongs to a child, the court could deem it to be the child’s property and not subject to division at all. I’ve also seen a judge order that the pet travel with the child. Particularly where children are involved, try to keep pet squabbles out of court and keep the best interest of the human child in mind.
Even though a court cannot order possession schedules for a pet, It is common for people to come up with possession schedules for pets by agreement. Some of these often include a right of first refusal option, prior to a party kenneling a pet or hiring a pet sitter. I’ve also seen similar clauses about leaving the pet to the other “pet parent” in the event of a spouse’s death or needing to re-home the animal for any reason. I’ve even had a long-distance travel (out of state) provision for a pair of large dogs and pet support (in terms of an amount to be paid to help with food, litter, veterinarian visits, pet insurance, etc… These types of agreements can and should be honored and/or enforced by a court as a contract.
If you are considering divorce and have a beloved pet or two, it is wise to discuss arrangements and options with counsel. Most divorce lawyers are accustomed to dealing with these situations and should be able to assist with some creative options for keeping Fluffy and Fido out of the crossfires of litigation.