Divorce, Domestic Violence, and Dogs

Divorce, Domestic Violence, and Dogs

Along with divorce comes a variety of questions regarding property: Who keeps the house? Who gets which vehicles? Perhaps most importantly, who gets the dog?

The presence of animals in the marital home has a significant impact on relationships within the home. Many divorces are delayed and sometimes not ever sought out due to the presence of our beloved pets. When deciding whether to leave the marital relationship, many Americans grapple with the idea of having to leave their pets behind. Dogs lend themselves to particular consideration, as they are integral to countless American families.

During the holiday seasons, many families find themselves stressed by the pressure associated with finances. The stress often times lead to a spike in domestic violence. In violent marital homes, pets may become ‘collateral damage’. A survey by Austin’s Safeplace shelter reported that 71% of people who leave domestic abuse situations report threats to pets, yet the effect that divorces and domestic violence have on our pets is commonly overlooked. Dogs are creatures of habit and a routine lifestyle. Disrupting your dogs’ daily routine causes them to experience anxiety and emotional issues that can have long-lasting effects.

Protecting Your Pets

Many victims of domestic abuse have reported that their reluctance in leaving violent homes is influenced by concerns for their pets. It was not until recently that animals have been afforded a bit of protection from the perils that accompany abusive homes.

The Texas legislature passed a law which allows pets to be included in protective orders. Advocates against domestic violence are excited about the two-fold victory in this law:

-First, this law protects our beloved animals from being harmed or placed in an environment that is detrimental to their physical or emotional well-being.

– Second, this law is expected to increase reports of domestic violence and encourage victims to leave an abusive household by taking threats to their pets out of the equation.

Custody of Animals

In addition to the protections provided by protective orders, pets can also be safeguarded by including them in premarital agreements, cohabitation agreements, or partition agreements. Pets are considered property in Texas, and as such, they are afforded all the same protections. Though the judge will always have the final word, preparing a legally binding agreement concerning your pets can provide you with some additional protection.

Texas judges consider a variety of factors when assessing custody of pets. The questions that are often considered are:

  • Which party has taken on the role of primary caretaker?
  • Which party meets the daily needs of the pet?
  • How does each party’s work and travel schedule affect their ability to care for the pet?
  • If children are part of the divorce, with which party will the children live?

Dogs are permanent fixtures in, and are a part of, the American family. As such, it is critical that we consider the well-being of pets in situations of conflict, such as divorce and/or domestic violence. As relationships do not always last, it is important to make sure that you know your rights as they relate to your pets.

Marcell Owens is a 2015 graduate of Thurgood Marshall School of Law where he graduated with honors. During law school, Marcell worked as a student attorney in the school’s Property Preservation Clinic where he assisted clients with a wide range of issues relating to property and family law issues. He is currently an associate attorney at Universal Law Group where he focuses primarily in the areas of personal injury and family law.