Who gets the dog in the divorce?

By Jacqueline Newman
BridgeTower Media Newswires

Have a conversation with a dog lover and you’ll quickly figure out that their pup is an integral part of the family. The bond is a tight one and the thought of being separated is incomprehensible. So what happens when “pet parents” decide to split? Breakups are never pleasant and often times downright messy, especially when it comes to the division of assets. Who gets the family pet has become such a hot topic that couples are including the issue in prenups.

 If one’s nuclear family disintegrates, who gets custody of Fido? In the past, the answer to that question was pretty simple, as courts had been accustomed to treating pets like property. However, in today’s world, US courts are starting to treat pet custody cases the way they treat child custody cases; essentially, the court considers the pet’s well-being and happiness, rather than merely settling the issue of who is an animal’s rightful owner.

If you and your spouse do not have any children but have been sharing the joys and responsibilities of having a dog or any other pet for several years, know that your experience is not unlike being a parent—and certain legalities ensue.

Tips for obtaining  pet custody

If you are the primary caretaker of a pet or pets, my advice is to keep logs of everything you do for them on a daily basis. When the judge is faced with having to make a decision, evidence of your involvement in vet visits, shopping for pricey pet food, day-to-day management, and setting up play dates with other pups will definitely help your case.

Ultimately, you need to be able to show a court that you are and have been during the marriage the primary caretaker for the pet.

Keep a journal of the times you take the dog to the vet and a detailed list of what you do to care for your pet. You need to be able to show the judge that your beloved pup will thrive best in your care.

Courts do not have an apparatus to measure your love for your pets, but if you are putting time and energy into making sure they are healthy, happy, and well-fed, this will speak volumes. And the court will take notice.

My last piece of advice for pet owners who are facing a divorce and managing the future of their pets is to not take the matter lightly.

I have seen pet custody cases that had to go through an endless string of appeals. Although it is not very common, there can be fierce litigation over who gets to keep the pet or how the expenses are to be shared. I have been involved in settlements where cost is split seventy-thirty and time is split fifty-fifty, and it is true that there are judges who go to great lengths to consider what will make a pet happy.


Jacqueline Newman is a New York City-based divorce lawyer and experienced matrimonial law expert.


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