Many Americans have deep connections and emotional attachments to their pets. When a divorce occurs, however, a dispute may arise over which party should receive custody of the family dog. Unlike children, there are no “custody” laws involving pets in the state of Washington because pets are considered property under Washington law.

If the parties cannot agree on who should keep the pet, the judge may award the pet to the party who traditionally has taken care of the pet; or to the spouse who will have primary custody of the children, if there is a close relationship between the pet and the children. On the other hand, if one spouse owned a pet prior to the parties’ marriage, then that spouse probably will receive possession of the pet.

But as in the case of property, you can reach any agreement with your partner how you will share pets after you end your relationship. If both spouses are relatively amicable, for example, they may be able to work out a “joint custody” agreement. This would allow both parties to have contact with the family pet on a regular basis. The parties could also allow the pet to accompany the children as they move back and forth according to the parenting plan.

Regardless of what you intend to do about the family pet in your divorce, remember that pets sometimes come at a considerable cost. The expenses related to veterinarian visits for shots and illnesses, daily medications and flea treatment, plus paying to board the animal when you’re away, all can add up quickly. If you want to take possession of the family dog, then you also should be ready to take on the costs associated with the dog.

Reaching a settlement in your divorce case is never easy, especially given the strong emotions that typically arise in a divorce. During times like these, it is hard to make the decisions that are truly best for you and your family, particularly when it comes to emotionally-charged issues like your pets. It is in these kinds of cases that a Washington divorce lawyer can be most useful to you and truly make a difference in the outcome of your case. Visit our website at and click on the “Contact Us” button and fill out the online form today. You also can contact us online, and one of our staff members will get back to you right away.