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Ask a Lawyer: Who Gets Fido?

Child custody issues are a common subject on our weekly forum. However, last week we got a different kind of custody question: Which roommate is entitled to custody of an animal when one of the roommates moves out?

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If you live with a roommate and you have paid vets bills and provided food for the animals, who has legal claim to them if one leaves? -Deb H


Animal custody issues can be almost as complicated as child custody issues! In your situation, there are still a few unknowns that make it difficult to fully answer this question.

While it can be controversial, animals are still generally considered “property” in the eyes of the law. So, the person who bought the animals typically is the owner of them and therefore would have legal claim over them. Like other types of personal property, if animals are abandoned, then someone other than the owner may be able to claim them. If your roommate is the owner of the pets but moves out, leaving the pets in your care, you may be able to claim ownership of them (depending on the length of time the pets are abandoned and what state you live in).

In an effort to simplify things, you may want to talk to your roommate and try to come to an agreement on your own terms.

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