Most state laws still classify pets a property, much like the TV or your vintage T-shirt collection, but with one key difference: If you and your ex can’t decide on who gets the pet, you can’t liquidate it like you would a car and split the proceeds. "There’s a lot of informal mediation and it’s the rare case that goes to court," says David Favre, a professor at Michigan State University College of Law and editor in chief of animallaw.info, "but some people are so emotionally invested in their pets that there’s no compromise available in the custody issue."
Nadia Croes and her ex-boyfriend broke up last November after 10 years together, and their seven-year-old pit bull, Mia, was a central battleground in the split. "When we would fight toward the end, I would joke, ‘You can’t have the dog,’ like how other people might argue about a flatscreen," Nadia says. "He walked and fed her more than I did, because his hours were more conducive to taking care of her, but it was my decision to get a dog and she was always licensed in my name. She’s my baby."
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Ryan and his ex-wife worked out a visitation system that allows him to see the two cats whenever he likes, but the split and subsequent move have affected them. "They’re littermates, and they used to be really close friends, but now Smacky fights with Bucky constantly and won’t let Bucky get near him," he says. "Smacky is not happy. He’s a child of divorce."
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And while couples may have the best of intentions regarding their behavior in the event of a split, reality can intervene; Nadia and her ex-boyfriend had settled on visitation, but his infidelity put an end to that amicable agreement. "This isn’t to spite him or hurt him, but he screwed up, and one of the things you lose is your ability to see your dog," she says. "He has in e-mails mentioned wanting to see Mia, but the circumstances are different now and I do not want to see or speak with him."