Who Gets the Dog in a Divorce?
Getting a divorce can be an extremely stressful process. Between dividing assets and starting a completely new chapter in your life, the emotional toll can be overwhelming. And that only becomes more complicated when there are dependents involved – even if those dependents are only your fur babies.
Deciding who gets the dog or dogs during a divorce process can be relatively complicated, especially assuming that four-legged friend has stolen the hearts of both its parents. There are a lot of factors that go into figuring out who might continue to have the pup in their custody.
Typically, dogs are treated like personal property and would be seen in courts as such. But because dogs do have a special place in our hearts and have a their own clear preferences and abilities to communicate those to the humans who care for them, it’s not as cut and dry as it might be with say the furniture you shared during the marriage.
Better understanding all the factors involved might make you feel more comfortable about reaching a puppy parent decision you can better live with. So let's dive in... who gets the dog in a divorce?
Was It Anyone’s Before?
If the dog clearly belonged to one party before the marriage, that party will likely be awarded custody of the pet pretty easily.
Unless there were circumstances that would mitigate the first owner’s ability to argue that this is their dog more than their former spouse, it will be pretty easy to keep the dog in that person’s possession.
Since dogs are be seen as property, it’s might be reasonable to argue that the dog, though enjoyed by both parties, wasn’t technically ever community property.
Who Bought It and When?
Whoever put the money down for your pup could have a case that the dog is more theirs than the other person’s.
Though the dog might be seen as community property in the eyes of the law, since the community is splitting up, the person who invested more into that property could have a little more of a claim to the animal.
If, however, the dog is purchased after the marriage, it matters less who spent their money on it since all income is considered community funds.
Was It a Gift?
If you didn’t buy the dog yourself, but it was given to you as a gift from your partner, you could make a case that the dog is therefore yours rather than the person who originally bought it.
There would need to be some proof that the animal was, in fact, a gift in case it were to become an issue.
But you’d have a strong case that the dog is more yours if it was given to you by someone else.
How Are You Splitting Up Other Assets?
Though it may seem cold since they’re furry family members for most owners, dogs are considered an asset and can be assigned monetary value like any other bit of property.
If there is an agreement on how the assets are split, the decision for who gets the dog could boil down to how the other monetary assets are being split up.
Was There a Primary Caretaker?
Though dogs are technically seen as property, there are many factors that could sway a judge into considering who should get the pet.
And that can often include the best interest of the pet.
If one member of the marriage clearly took on most of the responsibility for the dog, you could argue that they should remain the primary caretaker of the pet after marriage.
Who Has a Better Lifestyle for It?
Similarly, there is some recent precedent that, like children, the best interest of the dog may be taken into account when deciding who gets to keep it after a divorce.
If someone has a lifestyle with more flexibility and general ability to care for its needs — both timewise and financially — they’ll have a stronger case to keep the pup.
If one of the parties in the divorce is planning on moving into a studio apartment and the other will be in a home with a backyard, it’s pretty obvious which of those might be a better lifestyle for the dog.
If it’s clear a certain party will be setting themselves up for a more hospitable lifestyle for dogs while the other is clearly not, that could be another factor in play when it comes to dog custody.
Can Someone Afford It More Than Another?
Though there will likely be spousal support involved from whichever party makes more money than the other during a divorce, there’s not yet any precedent for pet support as well (like child support only with more bones and fewer diapers).
So if all other factors are equal and the dog was shared property, the financial stability of both partners could play a role in determining where the dog will end up since vet bills can add up quickly.
Does Someone Want It More?
Any decision the parties can make without the courts involved will likely result in more happiness on both ends.
If one of the parties really wants the dog more than the other, it’s much easier to simply acquiesce and let them keep it.
If both want to keep the dog, the intensity of that desire could be something that the judge keeps in mind when it comes to determining who gets to keep it.
Does the Dog Have a Preference?
It may not be legal evidence that a court could consider in deliberations, but any reasonable person (especially any dog lover) may have a soft spot for a dog’s preference.
If there’s a clear, strong bond between the dog and one of the divorcing parties, that dog’s bond could be something that helps determine in the proceedings where its future home will be.
Does Your Dog Have Buddies?
If the dog has a happy life in a neighborhood with a lot of friends, the court may side with the party that will keep it in the neighborhood it knows.
Of course, plenty of dogs are very friendly and could make new friends.
But if there’s ongoing doggie play dates and a very solid social network that one of the parties can keep intact by staying in the area, that could be something negotiators keep in mind.
Where Do You Live?
Every state has very different laws when it comes to how it sees dogs.
Certain states are much more lenient and will keep in mind many of the factors mentioned above. Others see dogs as property and won’t take many — or often any — other factors into consideration when it comes to splitting up the community assets.
Consulting with an attorney familiar in family law wherever you live and doing a bit of your own research will help you better understand your specific situation.
Is There More Than One Dog?
Of course, if there’s more than one dog in play there could be many different alternatives reached. While splitting up the dogs may seem like the fairest outcome (assuming, of course, both parties want to keep a dog), that doesn’t mean it will be the best one.
If the dogs are strongly bonded to each other, splitting them up just so each human can keep a pet may make them depressed and anxious. If they wouldn’t miss each other and have clear bonds to separate parents, that’s a much easier decision.
Dogs are pack creatures by nature, and splitting up their pack could have a stressful outcome if not done with enough consideration for all the factors involved.
Can You Handle Joint Custody?
If it’s a possibility, many states will allow for joint custody of the dogs, much like you would human children.
If the parties are willing and able to come to an agreement, both can continue to be a dog owner after marriage, even if it’s a bit more part-time.
Would You Take or Give Visitation Rights?
Even if you are awarded custody of your dog, there’s the possibility that you could allow your former spouse to still spend time with them.
Maybe they can take them for miscellaneous adventure weekends or take them to the park when there’s time for it.
Whatever the case, the dog would remain in one person’s custody while legally allowing the other person to still spend time with it.
Let's face it... deciding who gets the dog after a divorce isn't an easy decision.