Pets are so much more than just animals. These four-legged friends are often important companions, and like many other people, you might consider your own pet another member of the family. Unfortunately, Minnesota family law does not value the relationship that you have cultivated with your pet. This means that the court could lump your pet into property division alongside things like furniture and kitchen appliances.

The problem is that state law still considers pets as property and nothing more. This does not necessarily reflect how most people feel about their animals, though. In fact, more and more divorcing couples are heading to court over pet custody disputes.

Who gets the pup?

Data from the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers found that 27% of surveyed lawyers had seen an increase in pet custody battles between 2015 and 2020. Dog owners seem the most ready to head to court, as they accounted for 88% of reported cases. Cats accounted for another 5% and horses for 1%. The remaining 6% of cases involved all other animals, including snakes.

The reason so many couples are heading to court is because the answer to “Who gets the pup?” is not always clear. Sometimes, the spouse who originally paid for the pet gets to maintain ownership. In other situations, the spouse who mainly cared for the pet — like feeding, walks and veterinary care — will do so.

Pets as bargaining tools

You love your pet, and it shows. Sadly, it is not uncommon for angry or vindictive ex-spouses to use pets as bargaining tools to get what they want. This tactic weaponizes the special bond that you share with your pet.

Some couples choose to protect themselves from this situation by creating a “pup nup.” This is simply a pre- or postnuptial agreement that clearly states who the animal’s owner is and what will happen should the couple divorce. Some pet rescue and adoption organizations even ask couples to decide ahead of time who will take the pet in the event of divorce.

Syncing child and pet custody

Minnesota parents may be able to take a straightforward approach to the issue of pet custody and ownership. This is because some parents choose to simply have the pet stay with the children, traveling back and forth between homes alongside them. However, they must still decide how to split pet care costs, such as food and veterinary care.

Divorce can be incredibly emotional. Add in the emotional weight of possibly losing a beloved animal, and you might not be sure where to turn or what to do next. But you do not have to face this uncertainty alone. Working closely with a knowledgeable attorney can help you feel more confident when approaching property division, custody matters and more.