In many families, the four-legged members are just as cherished as the human members. When going through a breakup or divorce, you might be concerned about what will happen to your dog. Who will the dog live with? Will the dog’s primary caregiver automatically get custody? And what about visitation rights? Since custody of the family dog is often an emotional issue during a divorce or breakup, it is good to know your options. Read on to find out how this type of decision is made.
Dogs: Property, Not People
While most dog-owners would beg to differ, the court will generally regard a dog as marital property and not as a living being whose needs must be met. For this reason, a custody order like what is developed for a child is somewhat unlikely. Instead, the pup will be lumped in with the silverware, furniture, cars, and other assets that need to be evenly distributed between the two spouses. It very well may be that you get the dog because the court sees him as being worth the same amount as the coffee table your ex insists on earning.
What this means is that even if you are your dog’s primary caregiver and even if you are the one that your dog loves best (we all know that every dog has its “person”), you might not get custody of the family dog – your furry BFF. This can be distressing to both partners: You might be upset that you cannot care for your dog anymore, and your partner might be upset when they realize how much time and money goes into caring for a dog.
The Best Interest of the Family Dog
With all of that being said, some trends suggest that judges consider what is best for the dog when deciding who should get custody of him or her. In some cases, a third party might observe both pet-parents with the dog to see which one the pup is more bonded to. When there are children involved, the family dog will often be awarded to the parent who has primary custody. In joint custody cases of children, the pet might go with the parent who has been the dog’s primary caregiver.
In a few cases, there will be visitation ordered. If you have children who are already going to visit their other parent, the dog might move back and forth between houses with their human siblings. If there are no children involved, the dog might visit with their other parent every other weekend or on some different schedule. There is no one right way to do things when deciding custody and visitation for a family dog.
Mediation and Meeting Halfway
When you decide who will get what during your divorce, talking about family pets is necessary. Suppose you and your ex can decide who will keep the pup and when they will visit with the other partner (where applicable); that will be one less thing you have to depend on a judge to decide. It is also one less thing you need to hire a lawyer to argue for on your behalf.
First, try talking to your ex. One of you may want the dog, and the other does not. That would be the most straightforward situation to work with. One cannot reasonably take the dog because they are moving to an apartment that is very small or will not allow them to have a pet. If both of you want (and can have) custody of the family dog, you might need to look for some creative options.
For example, consider switching off weekly, so each of you gets an equal amount of time with your pet. Or you might come up with a visitation schedule that keeps in mind your work schedule and other obligations. For example, you might settle on having the dog every other weekend because that is what your schedule can easily accommodate. If you cannot agree on your own, consider having a mediator work with both of you together as well as separately.
This legal professional can help both partners develop compromises they are willing to make and priority lists for what they want the most. Suppose the dog is the number one item on your priority list, and it is further down the list on your spouse’s plan. In that case, you might be able to offer to let them have family heirlooms, the entertainment system, or whatever is higher on their priority list.
Bonding With Your Dog During Visits
You do not have to worry that your dog will forget who you are or will not want to spend time with you during periodic visits. If your ex gets primary custody of the family dog, but you have the chance to spend a weekend or two per month with your pet, then be sure to follow through and take your pup as you are allowed! Think about how happy he or she was when you had come home from work in the evening or after you went away on a business trip or vacation.
That is how your dog will feel each time they see you when you have been out of sight for a couple of weeks. A ride in the car, a bowl of food, snuggling on the couch, and a game of catch or fetch at the dog park are all things that your dog will be grateful for when the two of you are together. He or she might like to sleep in your bed and will surely want to lay under the table while you eat dinner. Visits are a great way to build memories with your dog and will help you cope with not having him or her full-time should you not get full custody.