Pet Custody Laws in North America are Gradually Changing

Slowly but surely, courts across North America are approaching the issue of pet custody in a different light. While many of these jurisdictions previously looked upon pets in a somewhat cold manner, we are now witnessing a more thoughtful property division process that sees the animals as living, feeling creatures rather than inanimate objects. Will Georgia soon follow? What are the State’s current laws regarding animal custody in a divorce?

Who Gets the Pet in a Georgia Divorce?

According to current law in Georgia, pets are treated in exactly the same way as a piece of furniture, a vehicle, or a set of jewelry. In other words, family courts consider them to be property. As a result, the individual needs and emotional aspects of each animal are not relevant factors in the property division process. Courts only consider a few basic facts when determining who gets the dog or cat. 

If a spouse owned the animal prior to the marriage, the pet is the separate property of that spouse. In other words, the spouse gets to keep the animal. However, if the spouses purchased the pet together during the marriage, the issue becomes more complex. It may be difficult to agree upon who walks away with the animal. If spouses cannot decide how to resolve this issue, the judge may make the decision for them. It is even possible for a judge to order spouses to sell the animal and split the proceeds. 

The Equitable Distribution Process Allows for Some Consideration

With all that said, the equitable distribution system in Georgia allows for a more considerate approach compared to a community property state. Judges may consider who spent more time with the animal, who paid for their food, and whether a spouse needs the animal for legitimate psychological issues, disabilities, or work. 

Numerous Jurisdictions Have Recently Adopted Pet Custody Statutes

Alaska, California, Illinois, and New Hampshire have all enacted statutes that allow judges to grant pet “custody” to divorcing spouses. This is similar to the process of granting child custody, and judges can consider the best interests of each animal on a case-by-case basis. Pet custody may also be split, and the spouse may have visitation rights. One has to wonder whether Georgia will soon follow – especially since the State is one of the top five in the nation for “responsible dog ownership.” 

On a global scale, the province of British Columbia in Canada has enacted a similar “pet custody statute.” One of the first jurisdictions to take this route was Spain. Argentina is another example of a country with excellent pet custody laws. This illustrates a transition that is occurring not only within the United States but across the entire world. 

Find an Experienced Divorce Lawyer in Georgia

If you have been searching for an experienced property division lawyer in Georgia, look no further than Lankford & Moore Law. Over the years, we have helped numerous divorcing spouses approach complex assets efficiently. We know that pets represent a particularly important issue for many couples today – and we can help you pursue positive outcomes that serve everyone’s best interests. Book your consultation today to learn more. 


I realized the true function of a lawyer was to unite parties riven asunder. The lesson was so indelibly burnt into me that a large part of my time during the twenty years of my practice as a lawyer was occupied in bringing about private compromises of hundreds of cases. I lost nothing thereby — not even money, certainly not my soul.

Mahatma Gandhi

Lankford & Moore Law in Downtown Lawrenceville

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