Ruff Times: Who Gets the Dog in the Divorce?

Dog with Family on Couch After Divorce - BartonWood

Your pet is a member of your family. Maybe you even refer to him or her as your "fur baby." Pets are a source of unconditional love and comfort, especially when you're going through a divorce. But who gets the dog in a divorce? Although you may feel like your dog is your baby, in the eyes of the law, a pet has traditionally been treated as one more piece of property to be divided.

In some states, the law is starting to change, and courts may award "custody" of pets and even allow the "non-custodial" pet owner to have time with the pet. Utah is not quite there, and in any case, you may not want to leave the fate of your pet in the hands of a judge. As with other important decisions like child custody and parent time, the chances of getting an outcome that works for your family is best if you and your spouse are able to reach your own agreement.

Deciding Where Rover Will Reside

The issue of who gets the dog is rarely the first thing that comes up in the divorce. Eventually, it will occur to one spouse that this is something that will need to be addressed, and it is often a painful realization.

Dividing property or debt in a divorce usually has an emotional component, and this is especially true with a beloved pet. If one spouse wanted the divorce and the other didn't, for example, it can feel like a betrayal for that spouse to then expect to take the dog (which represents love and security), too.

It can be helpful, rather than trying to decide who "deserves" the dog more, to focus on the dog's well-being. Focusing on your pet's needs, rather than your own wants, may allow you and your spouse to reach an agreement more easily. For instance, will one person be able to spend more time with the dog? Does one of you have more outdoor space for your animal to enjoy? Making your decision based on these issues makes it more like you're focusing on a shared goal (your dog's well-being) and less like a referendum on who "deserves" Rover more.

If you do reach an agreement, a court is likely to sign off on it. Arriving at your own decision allows you more flexibility. For example, a court might be reluctant to grant both spouses time with the dog, but the court would probably sign off on your own agreement to share pup time.

If you have kids, you may actually find it easier to decide what to do about your dog. Some families decide to have the dog travel with the children. This accomplishes a number of things: the dog helps create a sense of "home" and stability wherever the kids are staying; both parents get to have time with both the kids and the dog; and both parents get to have time without the responsibility of child or dog care.

If You Can't Agree On Who Gets the Dog in the Divorce

If emotions are just too raw, and you and your spouse can't come to an agreement on who gets the dog, you will have to leave the decision up to the judge. And, like any other issue your judge will have to decide, so you will want to give him or her the information needed to rule in your favor. To this end, you can provide evidence that:

  • You were the person who adopted the dog;
  • You have been primarily responsible for the dog's care;
  • You will have the time and ability after the divorce to meet the dog's needs, especially if it is a high-energy breed that needs a lot of exercise;
  • Your home after divorce will be the most dog-friendly.

In the event that your ex ends up with the dog, or if you are sharing time, you may be able to agree that if the person with the dog needs pet care, the other person will have a "right of first refusal" to provide care. This can be a win-win; you will still get to see the dog, and your ex will save the cost of boarding. Plus, the dog will be with a familiar person who loves him or her rather than in a kennel.

We understand how difficult divorce can be on everyone in a family—including the family pet. If you need help negotiating the terms of your divorce, including who gets the dog, we invite you to contact our law office.

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Categories: Pets