Many of us, married or not, enjoy the companionship of a pet (or pets); be this dogs, cats, birds or other more exotic choices.  It is not uncommon for people to be very attached to their pets and to treat them as family members.

When a couple with a beloved pet divorces in Nebraska, the law is harsh; a pet animal as an item of property to be awarded to one of them in the division of their property.

Only a couple of states have special laws regarding pet custody and care after divorce.  Nebraska is not one of them.

The good news is that a divorcing couple can negotiate a settlement agreement in which they incorporate agreed-upon terms of ownership of a pet. For example, they might agree to set up a custodial schedule in which they trade off time with the pet. Other provisions might include sharing of pet costs, requiring that the other ex-spouse be first asked to care for the pet when the other needs pet boarding, or other terms. Perhaps the dog or cat resides wherever the minor children are during their custody and visitation arrangements.

According to a recent article in Divorce Magazine, the ASPCA says that major family changes such as divorce are behind about one-quarter of all instances of pet rehoming or surrender. When a couple really cares about an animal, the thought of leaving the pet at the local pound or shelter may be the impetus for trying to come to an agreement that allows the animal to remain with family members.

If the couple cannot enter into an agreement about the pet, the judge in the divorce will decide which spouse will get the animal as part of the property division. Nebraska law requires that property be divided reasonably and equitably (fairly).

First, the judge will decide if the pet is separate or marital property. For example, if one spouse owned the pet before the marriage or was a gift to just one of them, it is that person’s separate property and they will keep the animal.

If either or both parties acquired the animal during the marriage, the judge will likely award the animal to one of them as part of the equitable division of assets.