Who gets the dog in a North Carolina divorce?

You remember it like it was yesterday. Maybe you and your spouse answered an ad, maybe you visited the dog pound together. Or maybe your spouse just surprised you. Perhaps it was a new puppy or an old rescue. Either way, it was a new experience for you all. And it was one you’ll never forget.

While your bond with your dog grew stronger, you and your spouse seemed to drift apart. Now you’re considering a divorce. This can be one of the most trying situations in a person’s life—even more so when the question of pet custody is involved.

Many people view their pets as family. Some state laws share that viewpoint. North Carolina, however, sees your pets as property.

When it comes to divorce, North Carolina practices what’s called equitable distribution. This means that the court decides how to fairly distribute your property.

What courts consider when it comes to your pet

There are a few factors the courts look at when it comes to deciding custody of your pet:

  • Value: Whether or not your dog is purebred will determine its property value. The courts will consider this when dividing total assets.
  • Legal circumstances: If domestic abuse is involved, the court can grant pet custody to the victim(s).
  • Family circumstances: Likewise, if the divorce involves a minor child and a restraining order, North Carolina law stipulates that the court can give pet custody to the minor’s household.
  • Timing: The courts only consider property purchased during the marriage as marital property. All other property is separate. This means that if you owned your dog prior to getting married, you can expect to retain custody upon divorce.

Exploring your options

Pets play an important role in our lives. Sometimes, a family’s best choice is drawing up a pet custody agreement. These typically include visitation agreements, choice of veterinarian, division of medical expenses and more. This leaves the choices up to you and your spouse, instead of the courts. This option works best, of course, in the case of an amicable divorce.

If your divorce is contested, or not amicable, then the courts will decide for you. Just know that this choice leaves the outcome unpredictable.

Your pet is an important part of your life. You don’t want a divorce to cause problems. Consider gathering the proper evidence—your pet’s purchase papers, registration documents, household circumstances, etc.—to help build the strongest case possible. You and your pet deserve the best out of this process.

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