When you wake up every morning, the first thing you do is let Fido out in the backyard. When he comes bounding back in, you fill his food bowl and watch him scarf it down. You entertain him for a few minutes by playing a little tug-of-war before you head back upstairs to get ready for work. Later in the day when you get home from work, Fido greets you at the door. You pull out his leash and he goes wild with excitement. You clasp it on to his collar and head out for a walk. You're tired from a long day, but Fido's enthusiasm makes the extra effort worth it. You couldn't imagine living without him.
Unfortunately, a divorce can throw your ownership of your pet in question. While some cases are easily solved -- like when one spouse owned the pet before the marriage -- others can be much more difficult to reach an agreement on if you both feel strongly about keeping your pet.
In divorce proceedings, pets are considered property, so pet custody will fall under the property division aspect of your settlement. If you bought or acquired your pet during your marriage, it will be viewed by the court as marital property and in need of dividing in some way. If one of you agrees to allow the other to have the pet, the situation can be quickly handled, but if you both want to continue seeing it, you'll likely have to work out a custody plan.
A custody plan for your pet can look anyway you would like it to. It could involve trading off weeks or months or having one of you take care of it on weekends. When working through pet custody, it is important to keep in mind what could happen if you and your spouse cannot come to an agreement. Like any other aspect of a divorce, a judge will be left to decide who will get the pet if you can't. Generally, the pet will go to whoever is considered the primary caregiver, which can be determined based on testimony from your veterinarian as well as receipts for food.
Source: East Bay Express, "How to Navigate Pet Custody Battles," Elly Schmidt-Hopper, June 5, 2013