The animals that you care for can fill a very important role in your life. Even if you and your spouse share children, you may have a special and truly unique bond with your pets, including dogs and cats. You will certainly worry about the custody of your children, but you should also think carefully about the best possible outcome for your pet.

Deciding who gets to keep your precious dog or beloved cat can often become as contentious as a custody battle. In fact, sometimes disagreements about pets can become more heated, as it is a winner-take-all scenario, as opposed to custody, which typically involves shared parental duties.

Understanding how Texas handles pets in divorce can help you strategize to protect your companion animals.

While some states recognize pets as family, Texas does not

Earlier this year, California joined the ranks of states that allow judges to create shared custody arrangements for pets. This move makes sense, as psychological research shows that the relationship a person has with their pet can be as meaningful as the one they share with the people they love the most. Losing a pet can be one of the hardest parts of a divorce.

Unfortunately, the Texas courts are not likely to consider splitting up the custody of your pets. That is neither compliant with Texas law nor part of how they currently handle divorces. Instead, the courts will place a financial value on each animal, likely related to its breed and age.

The actual worth of your pet may be anywhere from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars. The courts will allocate it to one spouse and adjust other parts of the asset division process to reflect the financial value that the pet represents. Making a strong case for retaining ownership of your pet as part of your divorce strategy can improve your chances of retaining them during the divorce.

If you got your pet during the marriage, it is probably marital property

If you purchased or adopted your companion animal during marriage, that means that it is marital property with shared ownership between both spouses. Even if your spouse purchased the pet as a gift to you, they will have used marital assets to do so. Unless you owned the pet prior to marriage, you will not likely be able to prevent the courts from handling it with your other assets.

It is worth noting that it may be possible for you and your spouse to set terms for visitation of your pets as part of an amicable, uncontested divorce. The courts may approve or sign off on those arrangements, but they will not create them or place them in a standard divorce decree.

If you worry about what will become of your four-legged friends after divorce, you probably want to address those concerns with an experienced Texas divorce attorney sooner rather than later.