In a Divorce, Who Gets The Dog?

In a Divorce, Who Gets The Dog?

In a Divorce, Who Gets The Dog?

Divorce is hard on every single member of the family, including our furry family members. Increasingly, people decide to share custody of their dogs after a separation or divorce. However, sometimes a divorce is so contentious that this becomes impossible. In that case, how do you decide who gets the dog?

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Deciding Details After Divorce

There are many different things to come to an agreement about when getting divorced. You were probably living in the same house, which you may or may not have owned … what’s going to happen with that? And other assets? And who is going to get custody of the children? Then there’s the question of who gets the dog. None of these things are easy to agree upon, especially when the divorce isn’t amicable.

Deciding Details After Divorce

Of course, there are many ways that people choose to go about settling these types of divorce details. The three most common ways:

  1. Negotiated Agreement: Couples can decide on their own who will keep the dog and include this decision in their divorce settlement agreement. This approach allows for greater flexibility and may consider factors such as who primarily cared for the pet or who has more suitable living conditions for the animal. Couples may decide that one person will get the dog. Alternatively, they may agree on a shared custody plan.
  2. Mediation: If the couple is unable to reach an agreement on their own, they may opt for mediation. In mediation, a neutral third party helps facilitate discussions and negotiations to come to a resolution, taking into account the best interests of the pet.
  3. Court Decision: If negotiation and mediation fail, the court may decide pet ownership as part of the divorce proceedings.

Pets Aren’t People, Legally Anyway

In child custody arrangements, the courts prioritize the best interests of the child. However, in most jurisdictions pets are often considered as personal property. Therefore, different rules apply.

The legal classification of pets as property is a concept that stems from historical legal principles, and it is still the prevailing approach in many jurisdictions. Under this classification, pets are treated similarly to inanimate objects, such as furniture or vehicles, in the eyes of the law. This means that, during a divorce or other legal proceedings, pets are subject to the rules and principles governing property division.

The idea of pets as property is somewhat controversial and has drawn criticism, especially in recent years as society’s view of pets has evolved. Many people consider their pets to be much more than mere property, seeing them as beloved family members and companions with emotions and unique personalities.

Pets Aren't People, Legally Anyway

The legal classification as property can have significant implications during a divorce, including:

  1. No Custody Rights: Since pets are considered property, courts do not make custody decisions for pets as they would for children. Instead, ownership is typically awarded to one party, similar to how a piece of furniture would be allocated.
  2. Monetary Value: In a divorce, pets may be treated like other assets, and their monetary value may be assessed, especially if they are rare breeds or have specific training or qualifications.
  3. No Visitation or Custody Agreements: Unlike child custody arrangements, visitation or custody agreements for pets are not legally enforceable in many jurisdictions. While some couples voluntarily agree to shared custody or visitation arrangements for their pets, these agreements are not legally binding.
  4. Property Distribution: During property division in a divorce, the pet may be considered part of the marital estate subject to division, just like other assets and debts acquired during the marriage.

Note that this varies greatly depending on the jurisdiction of the couple. The details about the couple and the pet might also come into play. For example, if there are kids involved that are used to having their pet, the court might decide that the primary custodial parent also gets the pet. Or if the pet belonged to one member of the couple before the marriage, that person may get the pet. It varies a lot.

Challenges After Divorce When It Comes To Pets

Challenges After Divorce When It Comes To Pets

Even after you’ve made the decision about where the pet will live (or it’s been made for you by the courts), you might find that you have a variety of issues to grapple with:

  • The emotional stress of sharing pet custody. This includes seeing the other person more than you’d planned after divorce. It also includes financial details, different ideas of how to care for the pet, etc.
  • The pet might experience behavioral issues resulting from the change and stress. This can create stressors for the humans as well.
  • If you lose custody of the pet, you might have to process the grief and loss, which may get tied up in the grief and loss about the divorce itself.

Challenges After Divorce When It Comes To Pets

Other Key Issues

Aside from the challenges faced by dogs during divorce, there are several other key issues to consider regarding dogs as they relate to divorce, mental health, and therapy:

  1. The Role of Dogs in Coping: Dogs can play a significant role in providing emotional support and comfort to their owners during stressful times, including divorce. The loss or potential loss of a beloved pet due to divorce can add to the emotional burden for individuals going through the process.
  2. Children and Dogs: For families with children, dogs can be deeply attached to the kids and vice versa. The well-being of the dog may be intertwined with the emotional adjustment of the children to the divorce. Therapy can help address the emotional needs of both children and dogs during this time.
  3. Pet Ownership Agreements: In some cases, couples may include specific pet ownership agreements in their divorce settlement. These agreements may outline custody arrangements, visitation schedules, and financial responsibilities related to the dog. Therapy can help facilitate discussions about these agreements and ensure that they prioritize the well-being of the dog.
  4. Pet Therapy for Humans: Pet therapy, also known as animal-assisted therapy, involves animals providing comfort and support to humans in therapeutic settings. In some cases, dogs can be integrated into the therapy process to help individuals cope with emotional challenges related to divorce.
  5. The Impact of Mental Health on Pet Care: The mental health of both partners can influence the care and well-being of the dog after divorce. For example, if one partner is struggling with mental health issues, it may affect their ability to provide proper care for the pet. Therapy can help address these challenges and promote responsible pet ownership.
  6. The Importance of Routine and Stability: Dogs thrive on routine and stability. During and after divorce, maintaining a consistent schedule for the dog can help reduce stress and promote well-being. Therapy can assist in creating a plan to ensure the dog’s needs are met during this time.

Therapy can assist you in working through all of these challenges. You may work with a therapist as a couple to determine the best solution for who gets the pet in the divorce. Alternatively, you may work with an individual therapist to process your thoughts and feelings about this issue. Contact us today to find a therapist.