It’s a question so common, it’s the name of a romantic comedy starring Alicia Silverstone now in post-production. Unfortunately when the question ‘who gets the dog’ arises in real life, there’s very little if anything comedic about it.
If you’ve ever had a pet—or been an animal’s human—you know they’re like family. Dog lovers often are the most rabid in their affection, dressing their dogs in designer apparel, referring to themselves as mom and dad (or ‘pawrents’) to the animal, even carrying around those thin plastic bags (enough said).
That makes it especially difficult deciding who gets the dog in a divorce situation. While many dog owners view their pets as children, the court views them as property. That means dogs will be treated as property should you go to court over your precious pooch. If you want to continue to treat your dog as part of the family, you’ll want to work that out on your own.
Squabbles over pets tend to come up early in the split because it’s such an emotional time anyway. Looking at placement and custody options just as you would for human offspring may offer some solutions.
Oftentimes couples will choose to keep the dog with whichever partner is staying in the house, with the other partner arranging visitation times. Other families with children will have the dog go between homes on the same schedule as the children. Still others will split the time on a routine basis, with the dog going to one party’s home one week and the other’s the next.
If you can’t resolve the question yourselves, courts will consider issues of space for the dog to run around, attachment to human children and where they’ll be and lifestyle. For example, do you work 12 hours a day while your ex works part time? The courts will decide based upon where the dog can be best cared for.
Regardless of who makes the decision, keep in mind that shared custody and/or placement also means shared expenses for everything from dog food and grooming to veterinary care. Figuring out those issues has been the subject of litigation on plenty occasions.
Divorce is hard enough on its own. Most lawyers will recommend that one party keep the dog. It’s simpler, involves less fighting and lowers legal fees.