Pet Custody: Figuring Out Who Gets the Dog After Divorce

In can be a very sad and heartbreaking time when a couple decides to end their marriage. Even divorces that are amicable can be very painful as both parties realize that their life is about to drastically change. Trying to decide who gets custody of the children or family home are often the source of many contentious battles. Yet it may be surprising to learn that people spend time and money arguing over who gets the family pet. Dog divorce law is actually the subject of courses offered by law schools throughout the nation. Prestigious schools such as Harvard and Yale both offer legal courses in animal law, including pet custody.

Creative Solutions to Pet Custody

Although you may view your pet as part of the family and treat them like your children, most courts view them as property. The decision regarding which party gets Zeus and Apollo may be treated the same as who gets the big screen television. The good news is that attitudes are beginning to change. The State of Rhode Island and several cities in America have changed how they classify the human-animal relationship. They were primarily seen as the animal’s owner, which has been changed to “guardian”. The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) has recommended some of the following things to keep in mind during dog divorce:

  • Litigation is already unpleasant and fighting over your beloved pet will just make the situation worse. Couples should try to work out an amicable solution whenever possible.
  • Make your children the guardian and request that the pets and kids stay together. It is also important to point out that children learn responsibility when they care for an animal on a regular basis.
  • If beloved Kato the Husky pup belonged to one party before the marriage, the courts are more likely to award possession to that individual.
  • A judge may be more inclined to give Bridget the Rottweiler to the person that has been the primary caretaker and can take the time to properly care for her.

It may be hard to believe, but veterinarians who specialize in animal psychology have been hired as expert witnesses giving testimony to sway the family court judge in some cases.

Consult With a Family Law Professional

A recent landmark case in Maryland occurred when the Myers no-contest divorce turned into a battleground when the custody fight over Lucky began. Judge Graydon McKee ruled that the couple must share split custody with each party getting six months with Lucky, the Lhasa-apso. While this is unchartered legal terrain, it demonstrates that judges are taking these types of disputes seriously. If you and your ex are fighting over the family pet, consult with a family law attorney for legal guidance.

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