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Who Let the Dogs Out? (and Who Gets Them After a Breakup?)

Contributed by Courtney Brooks

We are big fans of dogs here at Miller Butler, so we understand how much you love your furry friend. Getting a dog, cat, or other animal with a significant other can be fun at the time – but you have an important decision to make in the event of a breakup, and a lot of times ex-partners struggle to agree. Determining who gets to keep a pet purchased in a marriage is a more streamlined process, as the couple has to reach a property settlement agreement dividing all of their assets between the two. After a non-marital relationship, however, it’s a different story.

When the ex-partners can’t agree on who gets to keep the pet(s), it may be wise to hire an attorney. Your attorney can help you make a settlement offer that results in you keeping your pet (this may be an exchange of money or other items in exchange for sole ownership of the pet). When an agreement is not possible, your attorney can file a lawsuit for the return of your pet, if that pet is not already in your care. An attorney can present your case to the judge to prove that the pet should be yours. Judges make those decisions based on all of the evidence presented at trial, but the most important factor is which party paid for the animal and its needs.

If you own a pet with a significant other, there are things you can do now to prevent future legal disputes. Make sure that you keep track of your vet bills, vaccination records, and bank statements or receipts indicating that you are the one paying for the animal and it’s care. If you are splitting the costs with your significant other, it will help if you are listed as the owner of the animal on your vet clinic paperwork, and that you are listed as the owner on any breed registrations or certifications. You could also sign a contract with your significant other stating that you will be the one to keep the animal in the event of a breakup.

Ultimately, the law treats animals like any other piece of property – the person who pays for it and maintains it is the one that gets to keep it. Lawsuits over the custody of animals are much more common than you think, so it is important to be prepared. If you want more guidance on this topic or need help in a lawsuit, our team at Miller Butler is happy to help.

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