Texas Divorce and Pets: Who Gets Custody?

Understanding Pets in the Context of Texas Divorce Law

In the eyes of Texas law, pets are considered personal property, akin to furniture or artwork. This classification can seem cold and insensitive to pet owners who view their animals as beloved family members. Nevertheless, when a marriage dissolves, the question of who gets custody of the pets must be approached with this legal perspective in mind.

The Legal Stance on Pet Custody

Unlike child custody cases, where the court's primary consideration is the best interest of the child, pet custody is determined based on property division principles. The Texas Family Code does not specifically address pet custody; therefore, judges often have to make decisions based on who has a greater legal claim to the pet. This could be influenced by factors such as who purchased the pet, whose name is on registration and veterinary documents, and who has been primarily responsible for the pet's care.

Negotiating Pet Custody

Most divorcing couples are encouraged to negotiate an agreement regarding their pets outside of court. Mediation can be particularly effective in these scenarios, allowing both parties to discuss their attachment and concerns under the guidance of a neutral third party. Should the case go to court, however, evidence such as receipts for purchase or adoption papers, veterinary bills, and testimony regarding daily care routines can be pivotal in demonstrating ownership and responsibility for the pet.

Historical Cases and Precedents

Although Texas law does not recognize pets in the same way it recognizes children during divorce proceedings, there have been cases across the United States where courts have started to consider pets' well-being. For example, Alaska became the first state in 2017 to require courts to consider the animal's well-being in divorce cases. While this is not yet the case in Texas, it signifies a potential shift in how pet custody might be treated in the future.

Practical Considerations

In deciding who gets custody of a pet in a Texas divorce, practical considerations are also taken into account. These include which party has more time to care for the animal, whose residence is more suitable, and who will be able to provide a stable environment post-divorce. The ability to financially support the pet is also crucial as it implies responsibility for ongoing expenses such as food, grooming, and veterinary care.


For pet owners going through a divorce in Texas, understanding that pets are seen legally as property rather than family can be difficult. However, through negotiation or by providing evidence of attachment and responsibility for the pet, it is possible to reach a satisfactory resolution. As societal values continue to evolve regarding pets' status within families, there may come a day when Texas law reflects these changes. Until then, it's essential for divorcing parties to approach pet custody with a clear understanding of current legal frameworks and practical considerations.