Pet ownership is one item on a long list of things to be considered when a couple goes through a divorce. Obviously, it's not child custody, but some people do consider their pets to be children of sorts. Not surprisingly, the courts take a different view. However, like any family law matter, pet disputes can take a long time to be resolved in court.
Generally, pets such as dogs and cats are considered property, which might make it seem like assigning custody would be straightforward. But it's more complicated than using "calling contests" in court, which judges sometimes used to do: Each spouse would call a pet over to their side, and whoever could coax the animal over to them would get to keep it.
In some ways, these pet disputes are resolved somewhat like child custody cases. For example, things a judge might take into consideration include examining which estranged spouse might have the strongest emotional ties, and which can care the best for the pet financially. Other considerations might include who originally got the animal, although that isn't always the final determining factor of where it ends up. There are also anti-cruelty laws, and how owners treat their pets is certainly important.
The decision isn't always easy, and that's why such matters may take a while to resolve. People have very emotional ties to their pets, and like other issues that come up in a divorce, there aren't always straightforward answers.
Source: LA Times, "Pet ownership disputes can be as messy as child custody cases," Ashley Powers, Aug. 22, 2012