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Divorce and Pet Custody in Georgia

by Sharon Jackson  on July 15, 2022 under 

Most pet owners consider their furry counterparts part of the family. However, Georgia Law doesn’t regard them the same way. Instead, it treats pets as property. 

As such, pet custody remains contentious for divorcing couples. Case in point: The high-profile celebrity divorce cases of Britney Spears, Drew Barrymore and Tiger Woods. 

While you may wish to go straight to court, this doesn’t always result in a favorable outcome. That’s why it’s generally advised couples work with a mediator to achieve a reasonable solution. 

For simplicity’s sake of this blog, we’ll refer to pets in the singular, even though the same law applies regardless of how many animals a couple has.

How Does Property Law Affect Pet Custody in Georgia?

In Georgia, pet custody is treated similarly to the division of property in a divorce. Therefore, if a spouse bought a pet before the marriage or received it as a gift or a form of inheritance, the pet belongs to that individual spouse and is not subject to custody. 

However, if the couple acquired a pet during the marriage, then it is marital property and ownership is assigned equitably. However, equitable division is not the same as equal division. 

This means the court will aim to divide marital property fairly, which doesn’t equate to a 50/50 split. Hence, even if a couple has a two-pet household, it doesn’t necessarily mean one spouse will get one pet and the other spouse will get the other one. 

​​Do Courts Make Special Considerations to Determine Pet Custody in Georgia?

Yes, sometimes courts will consider other factors like: 

  • Which spouse is more responsible for caring for the pet;
  • Which spouse originally purchased the animal;
  • How much the pet is worth;
  • Whether there is a bill of sale or adoption/purchase contract;
  • Which spouse has a closer relationship with the pet;
  • Which spouse spends more time with the pet; and
  • If a spouse has been neglectful or abusive to the pet.

Just like any other case, you will have to gather evidence, such as documentation, photos, and testimony, to prove your relationship with your pet.

What About Payments for Exotic or Expensive Pets? 

Occasionally, a couple acquires an expensive animal during their marriage, which they consider an investment, such as a thoroughbred horse or a purebred dog.

In these cases, it is possible one spouse may receive half of the pet’s worth from the other spouse before taking sole ownership of it. 

If a pet continues to generate income after the divorce, the spouse who owns it may be required to share the profits with the spouse who gave up ownership rights. 

It’s important to note that in Georgia, the sentimental value of a pet is not a legal consideration. Therefore, you cannot request financial recompense for the emotional loss of losing pet ownership. 

Is Getting Joint Pet Custody an Option?

Shared pet custody is rare for numerous reasons; some pets don’t adjust well to constant moving, and logistics can make such arrangements impossible. It only really works if ex-spouses live near one another, have an amicable relationship, and are equally committed to their pet’s wellbeing. 

Does Child Custody Affect Pet Custody in Georgia?

If you have children, they will typically want the family pet to stay with them. It’s also highly likely a judge will decide this too (if your case goes to trial), as it could offer your kids a degree of emotional support during the divorce. 

While divorces are undoubtedly challenging for the whole family, young children usually grow very attached to family pets, and separating them from their furry friends can make the divorce process even more traumatic. 

Parents granted joint child and pet custody might also consider aligning their children and pets’ living arrangements to maintain stability and routine, depending on their circumstances. 

Things to Consider When Drawing Up a Pet Custody Agreement

Setting aside your emotional attachment to your pet is no easy task. However, we recommend considering what the best outcome is for you and them.

  1. Think about whom the primary caregiver has been during your marriage, and who your pet has a stronger bond with. 
  2. If you or your spouse are granted sole custody, how will this affect either of your financial situations? Does one spouse have better financial means to take care of your pet? 
  3. Between you and your spouse, who offers a better home environment for your pet?
  4. What is the work schedule of each party and who has the most amount of time available to care for the pet and ensure he is not left alone for long periods of time.

Speak With A Qualified Georgia Family Law Attorney

For many of us, pets are family. Pet custody disputes can be settled outside the courtroom with fair and equitable agreements. For example, you may decide to create a pet custody agreement or financial arrangement that best suits you and your spouse. Hiring an experienced Georgia lawyer can help you explore every legal option, as well as protect your rights and the rights of your pets.

Attorney Sharon Jackson has years of legal experience in Gwinnett County and surrounding areas, sensitivity to family dynamics, and has helped numerous Georgia parents secure favorable outcomes for themselves and their children in difficult family law cases.

Call Attorney Sharon Jackson today at (678) 436-3636 or use our online contact form to schedule an appointment.

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