Concord, NC asked in Animal / Dog Law and Divorce for North Carolina

Q: Is it illegal for me to keep my dogs from my husband until after divorce proceedings?

My husband and I are separated and can't find a solution to custody of our dogs. I would like to keep them in my possession until after divorce proceedings. Is that illegal or considered stealing? Can he call police to come take them from me? We live in NC.

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1 Lawyer Answer

Melissa Averett

Answered
  • Chapel Hill, NC
  • Licensed in North Carolina

A: Assuming you acquired the dogs during the marriage, then the dogs are marital property ( I know they are children to you, but the law sees them as property, like your car or your couch). So, you keeping them is not theft, anymore than you keeping whatever furniture you have in your possession that was bought during the marriage. The dogs belong to both of you equally. That said, if he comes and gets them, that is not stealing either, but it might be domestic criminal trespass if you have trespassed him from your home. Since they are property, if you have asked the court to divide your marital property, then the court will decide who gets the dogs.

Now, if he owned the dogs prior to marriage, the answer would be different. Then you are keeping his separate property, and while the police will probably not get involved, the court may order you to pay his attorney's fees relating to him trying to get the dogs back.

You should meet with a family law attorney to talk about trespassing him from your home so he does not come get the dogs and talk about whether they are marital or separate assets (as well as finding out about all your other assets and debts). Some judges do tend to treat pets more like children than assets, and try to determine where the dogs would be treated better (which a judge would not consider when distributing a couch, for example), so you should ask an attorney in your district how the judges in your county will treat the dogs in a divorce case.

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