asheville divorce attorney

Pet Custody in North Carolina Divorces: Guidance from an Asheville Divorce Lawyer

Divorce can be a complex and emotional process, especially when pets are involved. For many couples, pets are more than just property—they are beloved members of the family. In North Carolina, pets are legally considered personal property, and their fate is determined accordingly during divorce proceedings. This blog post will delve into how North Carolina handles pet custody in divorce, offering insights from an experienced Asheville divorce lawyer.

Pets as Property in North Carolina Divorce Law

In North Carolina, divorce law categorizes pets as personal property. This classification means that pets are subject to the state’s equitable distribution laws, similar to other marital assets and liabilities. Equitable distribution aims to divide property fairly, though not necessarily equally, based on various factors.

Equitable Distribution: How It Works

North Carolina follows the principle of equitable distribution, where the court seeks to divide marital property in a manner that is fair to both parties. Here’s how pets fit into this framework:

Marital vs. Separate Property: The first step in equitable distribution is determining whether the pet is considered marital property or separate property. If a pet was acquired during the marriage, it is typically considered marital property. However, if one spouse owned the pet before the marriage, it might be classified as separate property and thus not subject to division.

Valuation of the Pet: As with any other asset, the court may need to assign a value to the pet. While this can be challenging due to the pet’s sentimental value, the court might consider factors such as the pet’s purchase price, breed, and any potential future costs.

Distribution Factors: The court considers several factors when deciding how to distribute marital property, including the duration of the marriage, each party’s income and liabilities, and any contributions made by either party to the other’s education or career. These factors can indirectly influence who gets the pet.

Factors Influencing Pet Custody Decisions

While the law treats pets as property, the court often takes into account the emotional bonds between the pet and the parties involved. Here are some factors that can influence pet custody decisions:

Primary Caregiver: The court may consider who has been the primary caregiver for the pet. This includes responsibilities such as feeding, walking, grooming, and taking the pet to the vet. Documentation like veterinary records, receipts for pet supplies, and photos can help establish who has been primarily responsible for the pet’s care.

Living Arrangements: The post-divorce living situation of each spouse can play a significant role in determining pet custody. For instance, if one spouse is moving to a location that does not allow pets or is unsuitable for the pet, the court might be more inclined to award custody to the other spouse.

Children’s Attachment: If there are children involved in the divorce, the court may consider the pet’s emotional significance to the children. In some cases, the pet may stay with the spouse who has primary custody of the children to maintain a sense of stability and continuity.

  1. Spousal Agreement: Ideally, the spouses can come to an agreement regarding pet custody outside of court. Such agreements can include shared custody or visitation schedules, allowing both parties to maintain a relationship with the pet. Courts generally prefer when spouses resolve these issues amicably, as it saves time and resources.

Mediation and Negotiation

Many couples prefer to handle pet custody issues through mediation or negotiation rather than relying on a court decision. This approach allows for more flexible and customized arrangements, such as shared custody or scheduled visitations, which courts typically do not mandate.

Benefits of Mediation:

Flexibility: Mediation allows for creative solutions that cater to the specific needs and circumstances of both parties and the pet.

Control: Couples have more control over the outcome, rather than leaving the decision in the hands of a judge.

Reduced Conflict: Mediation can help reduce the adversarial nature of divorce proceedings, fostering a more amicable resolution.

Legal Representation and Advocacy

Given the complexities and emotional aspects of pet custody in a divorce, having an experienced Asheville divorce lawyer is invaluable. A skilled lawyer can help you navigate the legal requirements and advocate for your interests. Here are some ways an Asheville divorce lawyer can assist:

Document Preparation: Your lawyer can help you gather and organize the necessary documents to prove your primary caregiving role and the pet’s significance to you.

Financial Affidavit Assistance: Completing a financial affidavit accurately is crucial. An attorney can guide you through this process, ensuring all relevant financial information is included.

Reviewing Opposing Party’s Documents: Your lawyer will review the documents provided by your spouse to ensure they are accurate and complete. If there are discrepancies or missing information, your lawyer can address these issues.

Negotiation and Mediation: An Asheville divorce lawyer can represent you in negotiations or mediation sessions, helping to reach a fair and equitable arrangement regarding pet custody.

Court Representation: If mediation fails and the issue goes to court, your lawyer will present a compelling case on your behalf, advocating for your interests and those of your pet.


Handling pet custody in a North Carolina divorce can be a delicate and emotionally charged process. While the law treats pets as property, the emotional bonds people have with their pets necessitate a thoughtful approach. Working with an experienced Asheville divorce lawyer can help you navigate the complexities of this process, ensuring that your interests and those of your beloved pet are protected.

If you’re going through a divorce in Asheville and concerned about your pet’s future, consulting with a knowledgeable divorce attorney can provide the guidance and support you need. An Asheville divorce lawyer can help you understand your rights, explore your options, and work towards an arrangement that reflects the best interests of both you and your pet.

Asheville Divorce Lawyer

Asheville Divorce Lawyer

If you have inquiries about prenuptial or postnuptial agreements, or if you need expert legal assistance in other areas of Family Law in Tampa, Florida or Asheville, North Carolina—including high asset divorces—please don’t hesitate to reach out to Damien McKinney of The McKinney Law Group for a detailed discussion of your case. Damien is available for contact via phone at 813-428-3400 or by email at [email protected].

Additionally, we are excited to offer online prenuptial agreements. For more information about this convenient service, please contact us to explore how our online prenup option can meet your needs.