Who Gets the Dog? Surprising Issues of the Modern Divorce


While child custody battles have been a major complication of divorces for quite some time, the same fights are now popping up in courtrooms and mediation tables across the country over who gets to keep the dog. A number of modern couples have chosen to delay parenthood or, in some cases, forego it completely, deciding instead to adopt dogs or cats. These “fur babies” can become a serious bone of contention in a divorce, resulting in struggles over visitation rights, joint custody, and more. However, as unfeeling as it sounds, pets are still considered property in the eyes of the law, and therefore must be distributed between ex-spouses in the same manner as any furniture, kitchenware, or electronics the couple purchased together. That is to say, there can be only one owner of the pet once the divorce is finalized, with no court ruling to mandate visitations, shared custody, or any other protected rights that a parent of a human child has once a marriage has ended. According to Denver divorce mediation service SplitSimple, the question of “Who gets the dog” is becoming a much more popular topic with divorcing couples over the years.

Changing Legal Views About Pets

While most states still currently view pets as property of a divorcing couple, some judges across the country are beginning to disagree. As the Animal Legal Defense Fund points out, “Although animals are considered property in the eyes of the law at this time, some courts are beginning to recognize that one’s relationship with this particular form of property known as the family cat, dog, bird etc., is much different from one’s relationship with other forms of property such as your couch, your watch or your coffee pot.” It would appear that some courts across the country are in alignment with this sentiment. In 2017, Alaska became the first state to require courts to consider pets’ best interests before making a ruling about which party gets to keep them in a divorce. Illinois followed suit in 2018, with a law that requires courts to take a pet’s well-being into consideration and award custody accordingly. For Alaska and Illinois residents, making sure you get to keep your cat or dog in your divorce should now be easier than it used to be.

What to Do

If you reside in any of the U.S. states that have yet to update their laws regarding pet welfare in the case of divorce, the best thing you can do is try to work out a reasonable plan with your soon-to-be-former spouse before or during mediation sessions. By staying calm and logical, you and your future ex can come up with a solid plan that ensures that your furry friend continues to have a good, happy quality of life.

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