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What happens to your fur babies when you divorce?

It is more common than ever for young couples to remain intentionally child-free or to choose to delay adding children to their family until they have bought a home or establish their careers. Many young couples may grow their family instead by adding a cat or dog to the family. 

If you and your spouse share pets, then you may worry about what will happen to your beloved companion animals when you file for divorce. What happens with pets at the end of a marriage in Washington?

Are your pets marital property? 

The most important question you need to ask yourself regarding your animals is whether the courts will view them as marital property. Although you may think of your pet as a member of your family, the law doesn’t see them as much different from a piece of furniture or a vehicle. 

They are an asset that only one person can own and that represents a fixed financial value. If your pet is a marital asset, meaning you got it during the marriage, then both you and your ex might have a claim to it in the divorce. If either of you owned the animal before your marriage or if you inherited it from a deceased family member, then the animal might be separate property.

Can you share custody of a pet?

If you litigate your divorce, a Washington family law judge will not invest court time and resources in creating a visitation schedule or a pet custody arrangement. 

However, if you and your ex can reach a settlement for your property division, the terms might include shared access to or visitation with your pets. Recognizing your biggest priorities before you get too far into the divorce process can help you secure a positive outcome to the division of assets, including your beloved pet.