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Who gets to keep the family dog in a North Carolina divorce?

Pets are sometimes as important to us as our biological children -- and that is certainly not an exaggeration by any stretch of the means -- but dogs and cats, and other furry friends, are not treated like children in divorce proceedings. They are treated like property. Nevertheless, the heated and strong emotions surrounding the issue of pet custody sends North Carolina couples to court again and again in order to resolve the matter.

Unfortunately, our state does not have the same kind of "pet custody" laws on the books that other states have. Historically, our furry little friends are not considered as anything more than property in our state, but in New York, for example, these cases are handled in a way that is not that different from child custody matters. As a result, North Carolina law can feel completely devastating to "pet parents."

If a North Carolina resident can prove that his or her pet is personal property belonging to him or her (meaning that he or she purchased and owned the animal prior to marriage) then that individual will usually win the case when there is a question over who gets to keep the animal. However, if the court categorizes the dog as joint or marital property, then neither party will possess a higher right to ownership; and, as such, the person in possession of the animal could become the defacto owner since the court wouldn't be able to force the transferal of the property.

North Carolina spouses who are concerned about their family pet and how it will be treated in their divorces can discuss the issue with their family law attorney. An attorney can review the situation to determine which spouse will likely have superior pet ownership rights, and also develop strategies to try to assert an individual's ownership rights in court.

Source:, "Lawyer: 'Dog law' in need of reform," Mike Hanson, accessed Sep. 07, 2016