How are expensive animals handled in a divorce?

On Behalf of | Feb 29, 2024 | High Asset Divorce |

In a divorce that involves expensive animals, like horses, show dogs or exotic pets, the issue of pet custody is emotionally charged. Unlike some states, Tennessee treats pets as personal property subject to equitable distribution in divorce proceedings. This can significantly impact how expensive animals are split during your divorce.

Equitable distribution

Equitable distribution means fair division, not an equal division. The court considers factors like the duration of the marriage, each spouse’s contribution to the property, economic circumstances, tax consequences and any other relevant factor.

Animals as personal property

As personal property, pets are subject to the same considerations as any other asset. However, the unique nature of pets raises additional considerations for the court, such as who purchased or adopted the pet, who took or has taken primary caretaker responsibilities, each spouse’s financial contributions for the pet’s expenses, the available time and space for pet care, emotional attachments and the potential impact of the divorce on the pet’s well-being.

Taking the decision from the court

Couples have the option to reach a mutual agreement on pet custody to avoid a court battle. Such agreements may involve sole ownership with visitation rights, joint ownership with alternating residence or even selling or rehoming the pet with proceeds or value division. When spouses agree, they can include their arrangement in the marital settlement agreement for court approval, which is typically honored unless deemed unfair or against public policy.


However, if spouses cannot agree on pet custody, the court will decide based on equitable distribution factors, considering both practical and emotional aspects of pet ownership. Despite the emotional bond, the court treats pets as property and its decision is final, unless a legal or factual error can be demonstrated to make the court’s decision appealable.