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Pet Custody: Who Gets the Pet in a Divorce in South Carolina?

Pet Custody: Who Gets the Pet in a Divorce in South Carolina?
Axelrod & Associates, P.A.

Who gets the family pet in a divorce in South Carolina? Are there “pet custody” rules?

Does Fido get to go with the parent who treats him the best, gives him treats, and takes him on walks every night? With the kids who love him and cuddle with him when they go to bed at night? With the parent who is best able to pay for his medical needs or spend quality time with him?

None of these are the law in South Carolina – the “best interests” of Fido are not a consideration for SC family courts, and Fido is considered property only – no different than the couch, the television, or the family vehicle.

In this article, we will discuss pet custody in SC divorces, including:

  • Which states have pet custody laws,
  • How SC family courts decide who gets custody of the family pet in a divorce case, and
  • How to get pet custody, visitation, or pet support in a SC divorce case despite SC’s refusal to recognize the family companion as anything more than living property.

Who Gets the Pet in a Divorce?

If you are one of the rare people who have never had an animal companion, you may think the debate on pet custody is silly. Clearly, some people in South Carolina’s legislature and judiciary think so…

If you are one of the millions of Americans who has or has had a family pet that you loved and cherished as a member of your family, however, you may understand why some couples spend years of their time and thousands of dollars fighting to ensure that their canine, feline, or feathered friend is cared for when they divorce.

Which States Have Pet Custody Laws?

South Carolina does not have pet custody laws, and SC courts have not recognized that animals have any rights in a divorce action apart from the owners’ right to the animal as property.

An increasing number of other states have recognized the “well-being of the animal” or the “best interest of the pet” as the standard or at least a factor for awarding pet custody, some have permitted sole or joint custody in divorce cases, and others have permitted the courts to consider special circumstances when determining pet custody, including:

  • Alaska,
  • California,
  • Illinois,
  • Maine,
  • New Hampshire,
  • New York,
  • Rhode Island,
  • Washington D.C.,
  • Texas, and

The rest of the country, for now, treats animal companions as property only, subject to the rules of community property or marital property depending on the state.

In South Carolina, Pets are Simply Property

Who gets the family pet in a South Carolina divorce?

In SC, pets are just property, and, as far as the law is concerned, their well-being doesn’t matter in a divorce case. So, how does the family court decide who gets the family pet?

The family pet is property, so, first, the court must determine whether the animal is marital property or non-marital property.

If the pet was acquired after the couple became married, it will most likely be considered marital property subject to equitable division. The next step is to determine the animal’s value and award ownership of the animal to one party or the other as part of the equitable division of the total marital assets.

The pet may be considered non-marital property, and, therefore, not subject to equitable division, if it:

  • Was acquired before the marriage,
  • Was an inheritance, or
  • Was a gift specifically to one party or the other.

Pet Custody, Shared Custody, Visitation, and Support

You can have sole custody or joint custody, pet visitation, and even pet support in South Carolina – you just can’t get these things from the family court in a contested case.

If both parties truly have the animal’s best interests in mind, they could put these terms into a prenuptial agreement before they get married, or they might be able to negotiate these terms in a separation agreement or marital settlement agreement, even if the court will not order it.

The bottom line is, if you go to trial in a contested case where both parties are demanding to keep the family pet, the family court is going to order one party or the other to take the animal and the judge is not required to consider what is in the pet’s best interest.

SC courts do not give any rights to non-humans. If you want your family pet to be treated with respect and for their best interest to be the guiding factor in their placement, you must work this out with your former spouse in a settlement agreement before you get to court.

Got Axelrod?

Questions about who will get the family pet in your divorce?

If you are considering separation or divorce and there are fur babies involved, your Myrtle Beach pet custody lawyer on the Axelrod team may be able to help by negotiating a settlement agreement with your former spouse before you get to the courtroom.

Call now at 843-258-4478 or fill out our contact form to set up an initial consultation with an experienced SC pet custody and pet visitation attorney on the Axelrod team.

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