Pet Custody, When Families Don’t Stay Together

Pet custody is a relatively new field in law, law in all 50 States which sees pets as just another asset to be divided. We know that couples can fight about the smallest of things, and who gets to keep Charlie can become a major battleground. Since case law in this area is thin, many judges have used child custody laws as a guide, yet are still constrained by property laws.

Pets place in our lives has change significantly since one of the first cases of pet custody in 1944:

“According to Gary Skoloff, Esq., author of New Jersey Family Law Practice, Editor-in-Chief of the Family Law Magazine of the American Bar Association and former chair of the ABA Family Law Section, “judges consider pet custody a legitimate issue. Many of the same arguments pertaining to child custody fit and no judge laughs at this.” Joan Lowell Smith, Pet Custody No Laughing Matter, N.J. STAR LEDGER, Mar. 9, 1997 (1997 WL 8052984). “

If you’re prepared to prove a few things that establish not only ownership but that you were the main caretaker, this will go a long way to your favor. However, whenever you step into a courtroom, you are at risk. Decisions don’t always go the way you hoped.

There was a case of roommates splitting up cited at the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s page linked above. The judge based his decision on what was “in the best interests of” the cat, and awarded the non-owner custody. Visitation is also often part of the final decree in these cases.

Steve Dale sits down with Attorney Barbara Gislasen to discuss how custody cases can be made more meaningful in this short video. Enjoy!



I think this is quite similar to child custody although with a pet, I think there is a clear understanding of which individual would best be the custodial owner.  It is the one who serves the best interest of the pet.


  1. […] Pet custody cases are picking up steam. While pets are property in all 50 States, some judges are being guided more by child custody than property law  […]