Home Divorce Deciding Pet Custody in a Divorce Case in Massachusetts

Deciding Pet Custody in a Divorce Case in Massachusetts

muccilegal May 16, 2022

Parting with your spouse may be very painful or good riddance, but never with your innocent pet.

For couples who have both developed a deep emotional connection with their pet, the subject can be quite touchy considering the need not only to restart your love life with a human but with another pet. The process can be really harsh on you if you ignore the Massachusetts law on equitable distribution.

Deciding Pet Custody in a Divorce Case in Massachusetts

Think of all the reasons you will miss your pet – fun, prestige, companionship, health benefits – and what your play-at-home buddy will miss about you. You could make him or her really sad and depressed. Essentially, it is important to know who gets to keep the pet(s) during and after the divorce under Massachusetts state law.


Consequently, you may need to consult and hire a proactive and experienced MA divorce lawyer to protect your interests during a divorce. This is essential because you most likely will not get another opportunity to revisit the subject once the proceedings are finalized.

Now, let us examine some preliminary questions that you need answers to on pet custody in a divorce case in Massachusetts. For instance, “How are pets categorized by Massachusetts (MA) law and courts?” or “Factors the MA Family Court will consider when deciding the fate of your pets in a divorce” and “What about pets you had before the marriage?”

How are Pets Viewed by the Divorce Law and Family Courts in Massachusetts?

Some centuries ago, it would have been inconceivable that pets would be considered in a critical decision-making process like divorce. This position has been substantially reviewed in some states, particularly in California (also in Alaska and Illinois), where pet custody is now viewed by the courts in the same way as the custody of a child.

However, pets are still categorized as marital property under the Massachusetts Law of Equitable Distribution and their fate is decided as such by the Massachusetts courts in divorce cases. Nonetheless, there may be factors that may influence the decision of the court when there is a dispute or a divorce agreement.

At any rate, you should not imagine that the court will consider the “best interests” of the pet in awarding the ownership (a more appropriate word, rather than custody in this case) of the pet after a split. This also implies that the court will not issue any order on such things as pet visitation rights or joint custody unless this was the arrangement in the divorce agreement presented to the court by the parties.

Factors the MA Family Court will Consider when Deciding the Fate of your Pets in a Divorce

While the court will decide who gets the dog or cat after the split from your spouse just the same way the ownership of the house or joint-stock will be dispassionately decided, some of the factors below may sway the court’s ruling.

Considerations for Pet Ownership:

  • History of abuse with a partner – the proof of this may influence the court to grant ownership to the other ex-partner.
  • The living conditions of one partner e.g., residence in a “no-pets-allowed” apartment.
  • Was the pet presented to a spouse as a gift? Then that spouse may be able to keep it.
  • A settlement agreement on the parental rights, responsibilities, and limitations of each partner.
  • The pet owner before the marriage.

Spouses going through a divorce may opt for divorce mediation or arbitration. When the resulting agreement that treats the issue of pet custody is signed by both parties, the court will include the arrangement in its order, and it will become binding.

This means that if you and your partner agree to your retention of the family pet, you may still get your partner to agree to split the bills for taking care of the pet e.g., feeding, medical, pet-walker, etc.

With these considerations, the state of Massachusetts has established reviews that form guidelines for the ownership of pets in divorce cases. This helps to ensure that major factors are taken into thoughtful consideration.

What about the Pets you had before the Marriage?

Since pets are regarded as regular property in a legal separation or divorce, the courts will be very inclined to grant ownership of the pet to the pet owner before the marriage. The court will likely not take into consideration the attachment of the other spouse to the pet or how integral the pets have become to the family.

There are pieces of evidence you can show to prove your ownership of the pet to gain custody.

Evidence to prove pet ownership in Massachusetts:

  • Evidence showing ownership of the pet e.g., an adoption receipt.
  • Copies of bills showing purchases made for the pet.
  • An Affidavit for Vet receipts that show that you have taken the pet for Veterinarian appointments.
  • Evidence of financial capabilities to take care of the pet.
  • Pictures showing times you took the pet for pet shows, public events, or training classes.
  • Photographs of and with the pet and social media posts before the divorce.

Like every piece of evidence presented in different court proceedings, the court will award ownership to the partner with the most legal considerations and proof of ownership. This may also be the case in the demonstration of responsibility for the pet in the case of joint ownership during the marriage.

How a Massachusetts Divorce Lawyer will Protect your Interests in Pets Custody

Pet owners often grow a deep connection with their four-legged family member and to part with him or her can be very painful. Experienced MA divorce attorneys understand the gravity of this situation and the contrast of the law against reality.

Therefore, you will need a divorce lawyer that understands the factors in play for pet custody in divorce cases in Massachusetts. The lawyer must –

  • understand the legal framework, the terrain and court disposition on pets
  • be skilled in negotiation tactics and mediation to advance your interests in a divorce negotiation and possibly even get your ex-spouse to pay for maintenance
  • manage the emotional attachment you have with your pet
  • persuade the court to grant you ownership if there is a dispute

You can contact a skilled lawyer in Massachusetts from The Law Offices of Richard Mucci for a free consultation on grey areas and to handle your pet custody interests during a divorce. Complete this contact form or call 781-729-3999.

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