One of the hardest emotional decisions to make in a divorce is who gets the dog. Although the law views dogs as property, people who love animals know they are so much more than that. In a troubled marriage, the family dog may be the only source of unconditional love — and the idea of forfeiting that at the same time you're losing a spouse seems inconceivable.
How Do You Decide Who Gets the Dog?
Sometimes it's clear: One spouse may be moving away to a new place where animals are not permitted. Or perhaps he or she entered the marriage with the dog and the animal's loyalty clearly still lies with the individual. Maybe having the pet was always a source of conflict. Then there's nothing to contest.
But when you both love Max or Sophie and got him or her when you were in love, raised your pet from puppyhood, and equally shared in the responsibilities, there are still ways outside of court to decide what happens after the divorce. Consider:
What's Best for the Dog? Not all animals adjust well to change. Perhaps yours needs regular medication or frequent exercise. Which of you is better at providing that?
Who Can Afford Care? Vet bills and pet food add up. If one member of the couple is going to be at a financial disadvantage, it may make more sense to give up the dog unless the cost of maintaining it can be divided.
Who Wants or Needs Freedom to Travel? A job — or a simple case of post-divorce wanderlust — may prevent one member of the couple from being a reliable dog parent. Agree to give custody to that member — or to be willing to dogsit.
Shared Custody. Plan to live nearby after the divorce? Try to work out a shared custody agreement so that each one of you gets the dog half the time.
When you can't agree on who gets the dog, seek out an attorney who specializes in animal law. If you can't imagine parting with your dog, having him licensed in your name and also having your name registered with your vet as the primary owner may help to make your case.
More to think about: