For most divorcing spouses, the dollar value of their pets is not the major issue. Instead, spouses tend to consider the emotional attachment to these animals. In many ways, this emotional attachment causes spouses to fight harder for control of their pets – in the same way as a parent fights for custody of a child. And with increasingly fewer people deciding to have children in the United States today, “pet custody” is becoming an increasingly important issue for divorcing spouses. In 2021, birth rates were down over 20% – with almost half of all nonparents admitting that they will not have children. 

But the value of pets is not always sentimental. There are many examples of animals being worth tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars for various reasons. These are some of the factors that are leading many states to adopt new legislation that alters the property division process, creating some of the first “pet custody” laws in the United States. 

Animals Can Be Worth a Lot of Money

The average dog or cat is probably only worth a few hundred dollars. But there are some breeds that are extremely rare, and these animals can be worth a pretty penny on the open market. Samoyeds can be worth a few thousand per puppy, but it’s not uncommon to see them listed for over $10,000. A Savannah cat may or may not be legal in the United States, and it can be worth up to $20,000. Another rare dog breed is the Tibetan Mastiff, and these animals are so hard to find in the United States that they can sell for thousands of dollars. 

Of course, there are many other possible pets besides dogs and cats. The spouses might own a rare bird or a monkey. Those in rural areas may also own horses and ponies. Specific breeds of horses – such as thoroughbreds – can sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

You also have to consider the rise of “animal celebrities” on YouTube and social media. The well-known internet icon “Grumpy Cat” was apparently worth $100 million before her passing. The cat was a common breed, but her unique facial expression allowed her owner to rake in hundreds of thousands of dollars through viral videos and marketing contracts. Grumpy Cat even won a $700,000 settlement in California after her likeness was used without permission. This is just one example of an animal that can help owners rake in tons of cash, and there are many other “working pets” today that are worth a pretty penny in potential future earnings. 

States are Slowly Creating New Pet Custody Laws

States are beginning to create new pet custody laws. On May 3, 2023, it was reported that the Delaware House had proposed a new bill that would treat pets differently compared to furniture, cars, and other forms of “property.” Specifically, the bill would require family court judges to consider the well-being of the pet and determine which partner has a greater emotional attachment to the animal.