Who Gets the Cat in a North Carolina Divorce?

For most divorcing spouses in North Carolina, there are more important assets to worry about than the family pet. However, there are some who view this subject seriously, and they may be willing to fight tooth and nail to retain custody of a particularly important animal. While financial security is important in the years following a divorce, different spouses have different priorities. A breakup can put things in perspective, and some spouses may be more concerned with holding onto a creature that they love rather than a shared vehicle or even a home. Many spouses in North Carolina are particularly attached to their cats, and these animals may be dealt with in varying ways depending on the circumstances.

How Many Families Own Cats in North Carolina?

According to recent statistics, about a quarter of all households in North Carolina own at least one cat. Over 40% of North Carolina households own a dog, while almost 60% own some kind of pet – either a cat or a dog. This shows that generally speaking, spouses in North Carolina are likely to deal with pet custody issues in the event of a divorce, and there is a high chance that the custody dispute will involve a cat.

A Recent Case of a Cat Custody Dispute in North Carolina

On September 19, 2023, it was reported that a major interstate cat custody dispute had finally been resolved. This custody battle involved a cat that escaped from its home in Kansas, only to be found by another owner nearby. The second owner had no idea that the cat had been microchipped, and they adopted the animal as their own. This owner then relocated to North Carolina and took their new cat along. 10 years ago, the chip was discovered and the first owner claimed the cat as her own.

The Attorney’s Office had to get involved in this dispute, and it was eventually determined that the cat should be returned to the initial owner in Kansas. A local Animal Center also supported the decision, stating that the initial owner never abandoned the cat. The microchip proved critical in this dispute, as it established the rightful owner without any room for doubt. If the cat had not been microchipped, it may have been much more difficult to establish who was the rightful owner.

While this story does not involve divorce, it does illustrate one crucial aspect of pet ownership issues for divorcing spouses: Pets are considered property. The feelings or needs of the pet are completely disregarded, and the only laws that apply are property laws. One might have argued that after spending 10 years with the new family, the cat should have stayed with the second owner. After all, this represents its “true home” in many respects. However, the best interests of the cat simply never entered into the equation – and the only relevant point was the rightful and true owner of the animal.

Is the Cat Separate or Marital Property?

There are two types of property in a North Carolina divorce — separate and marital. Each type of property is handled differently in a divorce, and so the first real step is to determine which category the cat falls into.

A separate asset is something that was purchased by a spouse prior to the marriage. Alternatively, it could be an asset acquired after the date of separation (usually this is when one spouse moves out). Finally, separate assets can involve third-party gifts or inheritance.

Marital property, on the other hand, is a little more straightforward. This includes assets that either spouse acquires during the marriage (other than the exceptions listed above). It may also include the increase in the value of separate property that occurs during the marriage.

If one spouse acquires the cat prior to the marriage, that cat remains their property after the divorce. If one spouse acquires the cat after the date of separation, the ex has no claim over the animal. If a spouse inherits a cat during the marriage from a deceased family member, they also get to keep the animal after a divorce. Finally, a spouse who is gifted a cat by a third party (not the other spouse) may also keep the cat without worrying about property division.

Where Can I Find a Qualified Divorce Attorney in North Carolina?

For complex issues like pet custody, it might be best to consult with a North Carolina divorce attorney who has experience with complex asset division. Choose Arnold & Smith, PLLC to approach this undertaking with efficiency and confidence. There are several strategies that may prove effective as you strive to keep hold of the family cat. The best way to explore these options is during a consultation with our qualified divorce attorneys. Reach out today, book a consultation, and begin the legal process.