What is a Pawrenting Agreement for Divorced Pet Owners?

You and your spouse have decided to part ways. You’ve already agreed on who will get the retro sofa, the snowblower, and other big items. You know who will live where. The only stumbling block is who will get “custody” of your beloved Fido.

Beloved pets are like family members. And just like children in a divorce setting, they can find themselves stuck in a tug of war regarding where they will live post-divorce. Although it may sound strange to someone who doesn’t have pets, “pawrenting agreements,” or pet custody agreements, have been gaining traction with divorcing pet owners who don’t view their pets as property – as many state laws consider them – but as the family members they are. 

Are you a divorcing pet pawrent?

Other people share pictures of their kids. You show off your labradoodle. We get it – we’re animal lovers, too. But now, you and your spouse are struggling over who will get custody of your pet after your divorce.

The law won’t necessarily help. Family law in most jurisdictions today views pets as property, similar to a household appliance or a car. But to you, your pet is worth far more than any big-screen TV. 

If you acquired your pet as a couple, it may be considered marital property to be divided like all the other marital property in your divorce. If one of you owned the pet separately before you married, chances are the spouse who owned the pet before the marriage would get the pet after the divorce. Bottom line – in most cases, pet custody is a matter of property division according to the laws of your state. 

Fortunately, you and your spouse may be able to negotiate a fair property settlement agreement without ever getting the court system involved. 

Pet care after divorce: A pawrenting agreement

What happens if you and your spouse want to share the care of your pet, like a pet joint custody arrangement? In this case, you may want to consider creating a pawrenting agreement.

Think of a pawrenting agreement as a custody agreement for your pet. It’s a contract that details how you will share time with your pet and what your rights and responsibilities will be toward your pet’s care. 

A pawrenting agreement can be as personalized as you want it to be, but you do want it to address some specific matters. For example, what will your “visitation” schedule look like? What happens if one of you can’t take the pet during your allotted time? Who will be responsible for making the major decisions concerning your pet? How will you handle the financial responsibilities for its care? And what will you do if one of you doesn’t or can’t abide by your agreement?

Some people wonder: How can we agree to share a pet when we can’t even agree on who gets to keep the silverware in our divorce? 

Here are some tips:

Keep your pet’s best interests in mind

Couples who share custody of their children must keep their kids’ best interests in mind when making custody decisions. This is also a good idea when sharing your pet. 

Who is best suited to keep your pet safe, physically active, and financially cared for the majority of the time? Maybe your arrangement could have one of you care for the pet during the week and the other get the pet on weekends for long walks in the park or games of fetch.

Keep communication open and respectful

Like successful co-parenting with kids, sharing the care of a pet requires open, honest, and respectful communication. Establish a mutual care log so you both can keep up with your pet’s eating, exercise, grooming, and vet visit schedule. And when you’re exchanging the pet from one person to the other, resist any urge to revisit those weary marital disagreements that led to your divorce in the first place. 

Try to be flexible with each other’s lifestyle and schedule

Plans and schedules change. One of you may relocate. Your pet may develop a health issue that requires medication or treatment. As your pet ages, their care may become more involved. Or, one of you may not be able to afford costly vet bills. Addressing these possibilities in your agreement can put you both in a more flexible mindset from the very beginning. 

FAQ about parenting agreements for pets

How often do divorcing pet parents create pawrenting agreements?

Society has shifted over the decades from considering companion animals “property” to considering them as family members. Unfortunately, state laws have been slow to keep up. Divorcing pet owners are increasingly turning to pawrenting agreements to make sure their furry family members get the best care possible after their divorce. 

Read: How Your State Determines Pet Custody in Divorce

Do courts ever get involved in pet custody disagreements?

The court’s involvement in a pet dispute will depend on that state’s laws and sometimes even the individual judge. It’s best if you and your spouse can come to your own agreement about a family pet without the expense of getting the court involved, unless it’s part of a larger property settlement dispute.

Is a pawrenting agreement enforceable?

Much like a prenuptial agreement, a pawrenting agreement, if properly drafted and executed, will be considered a legal contract and enforceable. To eliminate any doubt, get the help of a legal professional to understand the laws in your area and how the local courts typically deal with pet disputes. 

Could a mediator help us with an agreement?

Mediators can be instrumental in offering neutral guidance on things like a pawrenting agreement and bridging other disagreements. A mediator can offer suggestions that prioritize your pet’s interests and help you reach a fair mutual agreement. 

Until state laws catch up with our view of pets as family, pawrenting agreements are likely to become more commonplace. If you’re struggling with custody issues regarding a beloved family pet, it may be worth exploring a pawrenting agreement. 

Hello Divorce free Pet Pawrenting Agreement template

At Hello Divorce, you can get affordable flat-rate professional help. For example, our certified divorce mediators provide expert guidance to make this difficult time a bit easier. We also offer online consultations with attorneys who are experienced in divorce law.

Want more information? Schedule a free call with an account representative.

Pawrenting agreement template (free download)

Divorce Content Specialist
Mediation, Divorce Strategy, Divorce Process, Mental Health
Candice is a former paralegal and has spent the last 16 years in the digital landscape, writing website content, blog posts, and articles for the legal industry. Now, at Hello Divorce, she is helping demystify the complex legal and emotional world of divorce. Away from the keyboard, she’s a devoted wife, mom, and grandmother to two awesome granddaughters who are already forces to be reckoned with. Based in Florida, she’s an avid traveler, painter, ceramic artist, and self-avowed bookish nerd.