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Pets are people too, right?

Not in the eyes of the New Mexico Courts. In the eyes of the Court, pets are considered personal property just like your vehicles, art collection or tools. The only difference is that our pets are living, breathing, loving animals who are a huge part of our family. When the tough decision to get a divorce is made, an even tougher decision may be “who gets the dog?”.

Even though there are no laws in New Mexico for pet custody, there are some solutions to help you decide what is the best option for you and your pets:

Pet Custody

Keep in mind, this is not the same thing as “legal custody” which is exercised with children. This is a discuss-between-the-pet-parents scenario to determine what is in the best interests of the pet.

  • Shared Custody: Some pets share an equal bond with both owners. If spouses can amicably communicate about their pet(s), they can work together to create a schedule in which they both get to spend time with the pet(s). Keep in mind that inconsistency can be hard for animals, and a simple plan is usually the best option (such as one week on, one week off). This way, both owners can remain in their lives and vice versa.
  • Primary Custody: In cases where it might not be feasible for the pet to take turns between households, one person may take on primary custody while the other enjoys “visitation”. This is often a more stable option for the pet(s), as they have a secure home attachment and can spend quality, fun time with the non-custodial owner.
  • Sole Custody: If one owner has a stronger bond with the pet(s) or is better equipped to care for them, sole custody is probably the best choice. However, regular updates and visitation can be beneficial for the non-custodial party (if both parties are agreeable).

Prioritize the Pet(s)!

If you have a sensitive pet, you need to think about how the transitions will affect the animal and their secure attachments. Consistency is key with our furry friends!

  • Animals can easily pick up on tension and stress especially when it comes to their owners! Try to make it as easy as possible on your furry friend. If you and your spouse are not on good terms, exposing your pet to repeated conflict after your separation can cause them to feel insecure, and lead to behavioral and mood changes.
  • Is the pet a service animal? Do they have a stronger bond with one owner? Does one owner primarily care for or pay for the cost of the pet? These are all valid questions to consider when making your decision.

Pets and kids

Think about your kids. If your kids have a strong bond with your pet(s), it may not be a good decision to separate them. Divorce is hard on everyone, but often hardest on the children involved. Taking a pet away could be very harmful while they are coping with other major changes in their lives.

Think about your other animals.  Do you have multiple pets who are deeply attached to one another?  It might not be in their best interests to be separated.

Other Considerations

Just like with other personal property, if one spouse purchased or adopted the pet before the marriage, they are likely to be awarded the pet as their separate property in a divorce.

If you have a contentious relationship with your ex after the separation, the best decision might be to walk away and forgo ownership or visitation so you are not continually exposing yourself and your pet(s) to conflict.

In future relationships where you and your partner adopt a pet or pets together, it is healthy and helpful to discuss a plan for who will retain them if you were to separate.  This will help you prevent conflict if and when it happens, and allow for a more peaceful transition for you and your four-legged friends.

Krista Kibler, Paralegal for Terry & deGraauw, P.C. March 2024

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