Who Gets the Family Dog After a Divorce?
Many people treat their dogs like children. We buy them toys, dress them up, take them to the doctor, drop them off at “daycare” while we’re at work… But what happens to this part of your family when you’re getting a divorce? You can sell your home or car and split the money equitably, but that doesn’t usually work when it comes to the family dog.
If you’re both invested in the dog’s welfare, able to care for it, and want it, how is a decision made? Studies show that in 38% of divorce proceedings, neither party is willing to give up their dog. But even though we consider our fur babies family, the judge will likely treat your pet as property.
So Who Gets To Keep Scruffy?
Most states don’t have pet custody laws, and most judges are going to consider the dog as legal property rather than considering the dog’s best interests when they award ownership. (They’re not heartless, it’s just the law!) The law states that they should treat your pup exactly as they would an expensive TV or car.
That’s why our advice to people is usually to settle your doggie custody battles out of court. The last thing you want is for the judge to order you to sell the dog and split the proceeds! If you simply can’t figure out who the dog should belong to together, you can hire a third-party mediator or have your divorce attorneys help you negotiate and settle.
In some cases, one spouse may have brought the dog to the relationship. And although you may be convinced you love the dog more, it may be best to let that spouse keep the animal. But we know it’s not always that simple. Maybe they bought the dog – but it was for your birthday, or maybe you’ve been caring for the animal for the past few years of your separation. Whatever the circumstances, remember that living with either of you is likely better than having to find a new home.
The ASPCA reports that family disruptions like divorce are responsible for 27% of pets who are given away or rehomed. Obviously this is the last thing you, your ex, or your dog want to happen. Many couples have tried to get around this whole mess by sharing their dog after a divorce. But the success of that scheme depends completely on how close you live, how well the animal travels, and our ability to get along with your ex.
Have You Considered Co-Parenting your Pup?
Previously unheard of, “co-parenting” is fast becoming a popular option for divorcees with beloved dogs. There are so many ways to share custody! You can split time evenly and switch every week or month. Or if your dog (or cat!) doesn’t do well with change or travel, you can have one person be the primary caregiver and allow the other “visitation rights.” Shared custody of your fur baby helps both of you stay in their life and can help keep your pet active!
On the other hand, this also requires you to stay in touch with your ex and coordinate things like vaccination schedules, vet visits, vacations, etc. Even if you’re on good terms, this can be draining when you’re trying to start your new life. And your next partner may have a hard time understanding. Really consider whether it’s best for your dog – and for you – to co-parent your puppy with your ex. It may be healthier emotionally and physically for you and your dog if one of you lets them go.
If you do decide to co-parent take these things into consideration:
- Agree on a daily routine so your dog isn’t completely jarred by the transitions
- Decide how you will split expenses
- Talk about whether or not either of you plans to get a new pet
- Agree that the dog’s wellbeing comes first
- Get together regularly about your dog’s vet visits and overall health
Put The Dog’s Best Interests First
We know you love your dog. You wouldn’t be reading this if you didn’t. But really spend some time introspecting and take a step back when it comes to dog custody. You may despise your ex, but don’t lash out and use the dog to hurt them. Make sure you’re considering who can give your puppy the best possible home.
Although it’s painful to admit it, saying goodbye could be the best thing you can do for your puppy. Remember, divorce is hard for us, but it can take a toll on your dog too. Either way, they’re losing a family member or a stable home. But the silver lining is that dogs who have grown anxious over time because of the stress caused by tension and fighting will recover quickly when divorce ends that tension. After the dust settles, they may even be happier than before!
If you have questions about who gets the dog in your divorce – or any other questions about divorce proceedings in Arkansas – contact the Digby Law Firm and schedule a free consultation.
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