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If you are contemplating a divorce, you may want to learn more about the state’s equitable distribution system, in which courts consider pets as property, as outlined by the Massachusetts Trial Court Law Libraries. During divorce proceedings, all property and assets acquired during a marriage are usually divided based on what the court determines fair. This does not always mean that each person will receive half or an equal 50/50 split of any assets. You may need to prepare ahead of time to request full ownership of a particular property, including any family pets.

Some couples who are separating may decide between themselves who a dog or cat will stay with, especially if there are children involved. The partner with a stable home that allows animals and who has the ability to care for a pet may seem like the best choice. If an animal belonged to one person before the marriage, however, the pet is considered that person’s separate property and he or she may keep ownership of it. When an animal is given to one spouse as a gift during the marriage, it is also considered to be that person’s separate property.

When a pet was acquired by two people together, taking ownership of it may require making a legal request for its custody. A judge may determine that an animal be distributed to the person who has the financial resources to care for it. In some cases, such as with a show dog or another competition animal, their care, maintenance and upkeep may require substantial income. The person requesting ownership may need to provide proof that he or she has the means to care for it.

This information is for educational purposes only, and should not be interpreted as legal advice.