A survey from the American Veterinary Medical Association found that over 80% of respondents said that they considered their pets to be part of their families. However, the law generally classifies animal companions as property. The state of Washington is a community property state, which means that all joint assets are generally split equally by the court unless the parties otherwise agree to a different division.
Assuming that a prenuptial agreement is valid, it can be used to determine who retains ownership of an animal if your marriage is dissolved. It may also stipulate that each party to the marriage gets to spend time with the pet if the relationship comes to an end. The contract might also clarify who is responsible for feeding, grooming or meeting any other needs that your pet may have.
It may be possible to acquire full ownership of an animal in exchange for the rights to other joint assets. For example, you could give up your share of a joint bank account in exchange for full legal and physical custody of your dog. A family law attorney may provide more insight into how to resolve an animal custody dispute in a favorable manner.
It’s important to note that any property that you bring into the marriage is generally considered to be separate property. Therefore, it’s possible that your dog or cat legally belongs to you regardless of what your spouse might claim. A bill of sale, adoption documents or other evidence may be used to verify that you have a right to retain ownership of an animal companion.