In most states the law treats the spouses’ ownership and possession of pets or companion animals following divorce like other items of personal property, such as household furnishings. If one spouse owned the pet before the marriage the pet will generally be deemed that spouse’s separate property and ownership and possession will remain with that spouse following divorce. But if the spouses acquired the pet during marriage it will be marital property (community property in community property states) and the court may award ownership of the pet to one spouse as part of the division of the marital property—sometimes using a “best interests” standard similar to the standard used in child custody determinations.
In some divorces the spouses are able to agree to a custody-sharing arrangement for a pet. And a few states (California, Illinois, and Alaska) have enacted statutes that allow family courts to treat the custody and care of children more similarly to care (support) and custody issues for children. In these states the well-being of the pet is the guiding factor for the courts in making such decisions.