Who Keeps Pets in a Texas Divorce?

dog with family

For many Texans, pets are more than furry companions. From buying toys and specialty treats to featuring them front and center in the family Christmas card, pets aren’t just friends—they’re family.

While many Texans shower their pets with more unconditional love than a car, home, or other possession, it’s important to keep in mind that the Texas courts will view pets as property in the event of a divorce. Determining which spouse keeps the dog in a Texas divorce will follow the same guidelines as other property division, such as retirement accounts or business shares.

From child custody to adoption to determining who keeps beloved family pets, divorce can take its toll on our mental health and emotional wellbeing. If you’re preparing for divorce in Texas, it’s imperative to secure the help of a trusted Killeen divorce attorney who will keep your best interests at heart from start to finish.

Don’t risk losing what matters most in a divorce. Our hardworking family lawyers in Killeen are here to help you protect what’s rightfully yours. Call (254) 221-8588 or contact us online to schedule a consultation.

How Are Assets Split in a Texas Divorce?

To understand how property is split in a Texas divorce, it’s crucial to first understand the difference between community property states and equitable distribution states. All U.S. states fall into one of these two following categories when it comes time for property division and asset distribution during divorce.

Community Property vs. Equitable Distribution States

As a community property state, Texas courts seek to distribute a couple’s assets in a manner that is “fair and just” during a divorce.

This is accomplished by allowing each spouse to retain separately owned property while dividing the couple’s community property (also known as marital property or jointly owned property) between both spouses.

Unlike equitable distribution states, in which the court considers a spouse's assets to be their personal property unless the couple has decided to share them during the marriage, Texas and other community property states follow a different approach to dividing property during a divorce.

First, the court will need to determine what is community property and separate property. Generally speaking, property owned by a spouse prior to marriage is considered that person's separate property, while property acquired during the marriage is considered community property that will be split between the couple.

Is Marital Property Divided Equally in a Texas Divorce?

It depends. While there is never a guarantee that property will be split 50/50 in a divorce, it isn’t uncommon to see an equal distribution of assets in community property states. Put simply, couples who are fortunate enough to undergo relatively uncomplicated divorce proceedings may expect to walk away with roughly half of the assets.

What About Property Owned Before & During Marriage?

Community property includes assets that were acquired during the course of the marriage. This may include things like real estate properties, cars, and other financial assets, including income from employment and retirement accounts.

In some cases, property can fall under both categories (for example, an investment account that belonged to one spouse prior to the marriage, but increased in value during the marriage). Assuming the other spouse was involved in an account or other asset during the marriage, such as contributing to an existing retirement fund or helping with the family business, it’s safe to assume that both spouses will have a claim to that asset.

Each spouse’s share typically depends on the value of the asset at the time the marriage dissolved. For instance, if one spouse opened a 401(k) prior to marriage, the other spouse will only be entitled to a share of the aggregate value contributed during the marriage, not before.

Exceptions to Community Property

There are a few exceptions to the division of community property. Separate property may include personal items a spouse purchased before the marriage or received during the marriage by gift or inheritance, such as separate homes or real estate, family heirlooms, or inheritances. In these cases, the property will likely remain with its original owner.

Are Pets Considered Community Property in Texas?

Yes. Unless a pet was purchased by one spouse before the marriage, a dog or cat is considered community property in a Texas divorce, meaning that both spouses have a claim to the animal. It goes without saying that a pet cannot be divided in a 50/50 split like a home or vehicle, which can make pet ownership a complex decision to determine in court.

While it's common for certain assets to be sold and their profits divided between both spouses, this isn't always feasible. If an item cannot be sold, the item will likely be assigned a value and awarded to either spouse. The ownership of dogs and other pets falls into this category, with the judge looking for a “fair and just” resolution.

Awarding ownership is difficult when it comes to pets. Unlike a lifeless object, a pet possesses more than financial worth. Some families see dogs in the same way that they see their children, and as most parents already know, it’s difficult—if not impossible—to place monetary value on a living thing that we deem worthy of our unconditional love.

However, the judge must follow the law and award pets to one spouse in a divorce. This area can be much like figuring out child custody. Some states actually offer a visitation option, but Texas does not recognize this unless both parties agree.

Best Practices for Couples to Determine Pet Ownership

Consequently, it’s best for spouses to reach an agreement before going to court. It’s wise for divorcing couples to determine which partner will gain permanent ownership of the pet while the other will be allowed to visit and possibly care for the pet while the primary owner is away. Otherwise, the court may make a decision according to community property laws that neither spouse will like.

It is important to note that, in Texas, dogs used as Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) are not considered pets, but are still considered community property. The court may award these animals to either spouse, even the one who does not need its special services. However, a letter from a licensed mental health professional stating there is a prescribed need for the animal could help the judge in making the decision.

Serving Texas Families in Need with Honesty & Integrity

Our compassionate Killeen divorce attorneys at the Law Office of Nancy Perry Eaton, PLLC are committed to helping our fellow Texans navigate the ups and downs of divorce. We understand how emotionally devastating it can be to end a marriage in the courageous pursuit of a better life. That’s why our experienced team is here to help you start the new chapter you deserve.

Family law is a complex and confusing area of our justice system. It’s crucial to equip yourself for success in court by hiring a divorce attorney with sufficient legal knowledge, skills, and training to guide your steps wisely. Rest assured that our Killeen family lawyers are here to tirelessly advocate on your behalf to obtain a favorable result in court.

Filing for divorce in Killeen? Act now to secure the personalized legal representation you deserve. Call (254) 221-8588 or contact us online today to discuss your case with an experienced Killeen divorce lawyer.

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