Plenty of couples treat their pet dog like their child. This makes divorce all the more complicated, with some owners fighting tooth and nail in court to see who gets to keep the dog after divorce.
Studies show that in 38% of divorce proceedings concerning dog owners, neither party is willing to give up their fur baby. Even though most American families consider their pet part of the family, the law usually treats pets as property.
But while you can sell your home or family car and split the money, doing the same to your dog just doesn’t feel right – even if it’s what the judge ordered.
So, who gets to keep the dog after divorce?
Due to the absence of pet custody laws in most states and provinces, not all judges consider the dog’s best interest when awarding ownership. The law states that they have to treat your beloved pet the way they would your sofa or TV: your dog is just another piece of property to be allocated to one party or the other. This is why it may make more sense to keep your dispute out of court. If you can’t figure out what to do by yourselves, you can use a neutral third-party mediator to help you negotiate.
In some cases, one spouse may have originally had the dog first, so it only makes sense that they’d keep the pet after the marriage. But it’s not always this simple. The ASPCA estimates that family changes like divorce are the reason that 27% of pets are given away or rehomed. This is far from ideal for all parties involved, which is why more couples have now found that sharing a dog after a divorce is the best compromise. However, the success of this setup greatly depends on your dog’s disposition – for instance, does your pet travel well? – as well as your ability to cooperate with each other.
Could You “Co-Parent” Your Pooch?
There are many ways to share custody. You and your ex-partner could split time with your dog evenly, switching every week or month. In cases where the pet would benefit from staying put in one place, you could have one partner act as the primary caregiver while granting the other “visitation rights”.
Sharing custody of your pet dog helps both parties maintain contact with their pet, and can be a great way to keep your pet active. But you should also consider that dogs are creatures of habit and that some dogs are more particular about routine. If you do decide to share your dog, you and your ex should agree on maintaining a consistent routine. Factor in how you’ll split pet expenses as well.
Put Your Dog’s Best Interests First
You may not think much of your partner right now, but don’t lash out and use your dog to punish your ex. When deciding who gets to keep the dog after divorce, always think of your pet’s best interest. Though it may be painful to admit, doing what’s best for your dog could mean saying goodbye and letting your ex-partner keep it.
Divorce is painful for people, but it can also take a toll on dogs. They’re also losing a family member, and possibly moving to a strange new home. If you’re considering divorce but are concerned about your dog’s wellbeing, note that divorce can actually help dogs who have grown anxious due to the stress of a conflict-ridden home. After the dust from the divorce proceedings has settled down, you might find that your dog is even happier in its new normal.
Jess Walter is a freelance writer and mother. She loves the freedom that comes with freelance life and the additional time it means she gets to spend with her family and pets.