Who Gets the Family Dog in a Divorce?

Mar 31, 2020 | Kathleen M. Newman

How do pets fit into a Minnesota Divorce? Strictly speaking, a dog is personal property, no different than a dining room table or a motor vehicle.   To determine who gets the pet, the court first considers whether it’s non-marital or marital property. Pets are considered non-marital property if they: (a) were owned by one spouse prior to the marriage, (b) are acquired during the marriage as a gift from a third party, or (c) are purchased with non-marital assets.   Otherwise, the pet is marital property, and it may be awarded to either party.

So, if the pet is marital property, which spouse gets it?  While there is relatively little case law directly on point, divorce attorneys report that many judges, in awarding pets, often consider the interests of the children; i.e. how attached are the children to the pet.  Courts are then more likely to award the pet to the primary custodian of those children.

Aside from the issue of the children’s interests, another factor involves who provides the primary care for the pet. Additionally, recent articles have recognized a trend in many states of treating pets in divorce settlements like that of children  A recent Psychology Today article illustrated this trend by pointing to a Hennepin County divorce case involving shared custody of a golden retriever – when the ex-husband didn’t timely return the dog, the judge granted the ex-wife’s contempt motion and ordered the sheriff to return the dog!  Even if you aren’t awarded the family pet, you may still be able to get visitation rights, but the bad news is that if you violate the visitation terms, there are legal consequences.

If you are faced with a divorce and the often heart-wrenching decisions involving your loved ones, including those four-legged best friends, please call upon our experience and sensitivity to help you.   


“In a Divorce Who Gets Custody of the Dog?” Psychology Today (October 3, 2018)
"The Modern Dog: A Joyful Exploration of How We Live with Dogs Today", by Stanley Coren (2008)
In Re Fore, Hennepin County D.C., Case No. 27-FA-000243974.