Attorney Eric D. Puryear

Dealing with Pets in Iowa Divorce Cases

Puryear Law » Legal Blog » Iowa Family Law » Dealing with Pets in Iowa Divorce Cases

In the hearts of their human owners, pets can feel like as much a member of the family as a person.  As such, getting the right resolution for the distribution of pets in an Iowa divorce case is often of great importance.


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Likely due to Iowa’s status as an major agricultural producer, Iowa’s laws tend to be some of the least animal friendly in the country.  Conduct towards animals in Iowa that would result in a felony charge in many other states is only a misdemeanor, or sometimes not a crime at all.  I note this not because I endorse that view of animals (I don’t), but because the rules of the Iowa legal system are what a person getting divorced in Iowa must contend with, so it is important to know those rules.

The good news is that Iowa law, while treading pets essentially as furniture would be treated, does allow the issue of pets to be addressed in divorce cases.  We tend to address temporary care of a pet the way that we would address the need to preserve and protect a valuable piece of property.  In terms of a permanent resolution as to who receives the pet(s), that is addressed the same the way that the Iowa court system would handle distribution of other property that is disputed in a divorce, with emphasis on showing that the client is the one who truly cares about the pet and as a result should be the one to receive the pet. In cases where children and pets are involved, it is important to ensure the court understands the pet’s importance to the child, which is often difficult to overstate.

Applying that to divorce cases in Iowa, I have obtained emergency injunctions for clients to prevent a pet from being mistreated (or worse), and have found the Iowa court system receptive to the arguments regarding pets when properly made.  I have also seen “dog visitation” and right of first refusal to care for a dog granted, again with the Iowa court agreeing to that resolution when the issue was framed properly under Iowa law.


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As someone whose “family” includes dogs and cats as well as children, I understand the important role that pets play in their owner’s lives.  In Iowa divorce cases where pets are at issue, I ensure that we fully address the pet situation so as to seek the best possible outcome.



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