What to do if you are involved in a custody battle over your companion animal

PET CUSTODY: FIGHTING OVER FIDO

ALDF Suggests: What to do if you are involved in a custody battle over your companion animal

If you are involved in a custody dispute, or if such a dispute is likely, it is suggested that you seek the counsel of an attorney who can advise you as to a strategic approach for a resolution that serves the best interests of the animal concerned.

Since animals are considered property in the eyes of the law, it may be helpful to offer proof that you were the one who adopted the animal, or if the animal was purchased, that you were the one who purchased the animal.

If you were not the one who originally brought the animal home, do not give up. There are other ways that may be helpful in substantiating your claims of being primary caregiver of the animal and thus the one who should be awarded custody, despite the fact that you did not adopt or purchase the animal. Information that may help to validate your claims as primary caregiver would be receipts for veterinary care, licensing records, receipts for grooming, dog training classes, food, and other items purchased for the companion animal.

If your neighbors saw that you were always the one who walked your dog or took him/her to the park, they may be useful witnesses who can confirm your consistent interaction with the animal and therefore be helpful to your case.

Although animals are considered property in the eyes of the law at this time, some courts are beginning to recognize that one’s relationship with this particular form of property known as the family cat, dog, bird etc., is much different from one’s relationship with other forms of property such as your couch, your watch or your coffee pot. For more information regarding the changing legal spectrum in handling disputes over a companion animal’s custody, check out ALDF’s article “Lawyers Must Plan for More Pet Custody Cases.”

Lastly, be sure to ask your attorney if alternative dispute resolutions such a mediation or arbitration (which some states may require if a lawsuit is filed) may provide you with the opportunity to more fully present the information you want to convey as to why you should get custody of the animal concerned.

For additional information about pet custody disputes, watch our video:

Pet Custody Disputes: A Legal Primer

If you are an attorney handling a pet custody case:

ALDF may be able to file an amicus curiae brief in your case, arguing that the best interests of the animal involved be considered in determining custody. Email us if you are an attorney requesting this type of assistance.

If you need an attorney, please see our section on finding an attorney.

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