In Washington, as in most places, animals are considered personal property, including domestic pets, purebred show animals, guide dogs, show horses, etc. Because animals are property, they will be treated as such in divorce, and the value of purebred or show animals in divorce will be subject to asset division.
It doesn’t matter who is the primary caretaker of the animals. It doesn’t matter if the animals were your passion, not your spouse’s. And it doesn’t matter if you are the one who spent an exorbitant amount of time, grooming, playing with, or showing them. If you purchased them during your marriage, they are marital property.
The Exception to the Rule
If the animal is considered your personal property, rather than marital property, it will be awarded to you. The courts will likely deem the animal your personal property if any of the following is true.
- You owned the animal prior to your marriage.
- The animal was given to you (and you only) as a gift. This factor is somewhat difficult to prove in court. Your lawyer can advise you accordingly.
- The animal was bequeathed to you in a will.
- The animals are part of your personal business that’s not subject to equitable distribution. This might apply if you are a breeder, for example, and obtained your business prior to marriage.
Valuing Animals in a Divorce
If your animals are marital property, you will need to have them valued. Your animals may be priceless to you, but for the purposes of a divorce, an appraisal is usually necessary to estimate the animal’s market value. If you and your spouse can agree on a fair market value of an animal, then excellent; that figure will suffice. If not, you can consult a professional, such as an equine appraiser.
Equine Appraisers notes, “If the appraisal is being done for litigation, the appraiser should have experience testifying in court as an expert witness. Rules of evidence allow an expert to offer an opinion if it would assist the jury in making a decision. You want an appraiser who uses fundamentally sound and defensible methods for estimating a horse's value and who can make those methods understandable to a jury.”
Consult an Attorney Today for Help with Your Divorce Settlement
Our team at the Law Offices of Molly B. Kenny in Washington can answer any questions you may have about separation. Pets are just one of the 10 pieces of property to discuss with your Seattle divorce lawyer. Call us today at 425-460-0550 or fill out our contact form.