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Earlier this year, a new law went into effect in Alaska requiring courts to take an animal’s well-being into consideration in the event of a divorce. It also allows judges to assign joint custody of pets. A Rhode Island lawmaker introduced a similar bill in late February.

If (and when) this goes into effect in Minnesota, laws will clearly outline what rights the divorcing couple has. There would be a hearing for custody, and an official schedule. But for now… what happens when a divorcing couple can’t agree on who gets the pooch?

Let’s admit it, if you have a dog, you know you’re emotionally attached to your dog.  After all, your dog greets you at the door with kisses,  tries endlessly to please you and snuggles up on the couch whenever given the opportunity.   You’re emotionally attached.

Right now in Minnesota, pets are a part of the property being divided by the divorcing couple, and therefore, governed as property division.  This means that if the pet is one spouse’s “non-marital property,” divorce laws dictate that spouse will be given custody of the pet.

What is NON-MARITAL Property?

There are several ways for your beloved pooch to be designated by the court as non-marital property.

  1. Was the pooch in your home before the official marriage? Then the pooch is non-marital property.
  2. Was the pet a gift… specifically to one spouse? Then that spouse is the clear property owner.
  3. More complicated… the pet will also be considered non-marital property if you adopted the pet together prior to cohabitation or marriage. In this case, ownership rightfully belongs to the home/owner the pet first lived in.
  4. A pet is also non-marital property if you and your spouse have separate or personal money, and you purchased it with personal money. This can be complicated if you didn’t keep financial records to build evidence.

When the Pet IS Marital Property…

It seems judges tend to consider similar factors to child custody cases when deciding who gets to the pooch. If you have kids, the court may decide to send the pet with the kids. So if you end up with custody of the children, you may also end up with the dog. Other factors will focus on the care of the dog. Are you the pet’s primary caretaker? Did you do most of the vet visits and pay the bills?

One more thing the judge considers – what is the environment and lifestyle of the dog? If you have a large dog, and you’re moving to a small apartment, that really isn’t fair to the dog. If you work sixty hours a week, but your spouse works part-time, the judge might see that as a better option for the dog.

It’s really for the best if the divorcing couple can agree on the outcome.  Perhaps you can share custody of the dog. See our blog on “Getting to YES”.

Do you need more information on divorce law in Minnesota? Call us for a consultation at (763) 783-5146. We’re here to help you.