Divorce Settlements: Who Gets Custody of the Pet?


By Nancy Bickford

Certified Family Law Specialist in San Diego


Two years ago, Shannon Louise Travis bought mini dachshund Joey as a 10-week-old puppy from a pet store and gave him to her then-girlfriend, Tricia Bridget Murray, as a gift. Now, after one year of marriage Travis and Murray are getting a divorce. According to the

New York Post

, Joey is about to go through a custody battle in what will be New York’s first matrimonial pet-custody case.

Judge Cooper, the judge who will be presiding over the divorce case, owns a 12-year-old rescued pit bull himself. He refuses to treat Joey like a piece of property and will schedule a hearing to resolve the custody battle. He intends to ask questions similar to those asked during child custody trials, such as which of Joey’s “mothers” spent more time with Joey.

In Alabama, pet custody cases have already occurred. An Alabama judge made a pet custody decision by taking the pet’s “best interests” into consideration – a standard normally applied to

child custody

issues. Kansas state courts, on the other hand, have refused to get involved with pet custody cases.

Pet Custody in San Diego Divorces

Pets are still considered


in the state of California. However, courts are increasingly recognizing that, as Judge Cooper says, “dogs play an ever more important role in our lives.”

If you and your ex cannot agree on

shared pet custody

terms and have resolved to take it to court, here are some tips:

  • Since pets are property, find proof of adoption or purchase.
  • If you did not adopt or purchase the pet, try to establish yourself as the primary caregiver. Locate veterinarian, grooming, training, and food receipts. Also, ask neighbors to attest to the fact that you were mainly the one who walked the dog.
  • Be properly represented. Because there are no laws in place as of yet to determine pet custody, it can be risky taking it to court. Hiring an experienceddivorce attorneycan bolster your chances. Attorneys can also help with mediation and arbitration.

I can counsel you regarding your rights and present your case to the court. It is important to note that I cannot request a temporary pet custody plan during the pendency of your divorce and will have to address that issue along with all other property matters upon completion of your divorce. If you are going through a divorce and are worried about maintaining custody of your pet, find me at

, in the blogosphere at


or even the old-fashioned way — by phone — at 858-793-8884.