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Who Gets the Dog? Pet Custody and Divorce

Posted on by Ben Hartwig in LawJuly 15, 2019

It’s inevitable. You’re getting a divorce.

As you brace yourself for all the stress and tumult that comes with a divorce, there’s one nagging detail you can’t get over: who gets the pet? The thought of losing your pet along with everything else a legal separation divvies up is driving you insane! The fight isn’t over though, and you’re willing to go to war for our fur baby.

But guess what? So is your not-so-better half.

What should you do in this scenario? What can you do? In this article, we’ll talk about what happens to pets after a divorce, and what steps you can take if you want to hold on to your fur baby forever.

Is Pet Custody Even a Law?

The short answer is no. There is no such thing as a pet custody law, and current statutes don’t view pets in the same light as children. It doesn’t matter how much you love your pet, because most laws consider pets as a personal property.

Pets are more like a coffee maker or a TV.

It’s a cold, hard, and sad fact if you’re a dog or cat lover, but once the divorce proceedings are over, that’s it. It’s either going to be you or your spouse who ends up with the pet. There is no middle ground or scheduled visitation rights. You won’t get to split the weekends or the weekdays.

The worst part of this story is that the law doesn’t even consider the best interests of the pet!

The Laws Are Changing

The winds of change are slowly starting to make life easier for pets caught up in their pet parent’s divorce. While the law in most states still views pets as property, some judges are starting to push back. Some courts are recognizing that a person’s relationship with a family pet is different from other forms of property, such as a bed or microwave.

3 States Leading the Charge

pet custody

Due to the judges disagreeing on the current divorce law regarding pets, some states are changing their regulations, and others may follow suit. Currently, three states have changed their stance toward pet custody in a divorce.

1. Alaska

In 2017, Alaska was the first-ever state in the country that amended its laws in favor of a pet’s welfare. The 49th state required the courts to take “a pet’s wellbeing into consideration” when deciding pet ownership in divorce. Judges in Alaska have the power and authority to award a divorcing couple joint custody of pets.

2. Illinois

The state of Illinois followed the Alaska example and instituted the pet custody law last year. January 1, 2018, was an excellent day for pets and divorcing couples as judges now had the power to award either sole or joint custody of pets in a divorce. The Illinois statute is a lot like the Alaska one, wherein the pet’s wellbeing is always considered.

3. California

In California, Governor Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 2274 in 2018 which is a lot like Alaska and Illinois pet custody laws. The law also stipulates that one of the parties in the divorce can take care of the pet before the courts determine the final home.

If you’re getting a divorce in any of these states, that’s good news for you and your beloved pet.

The divorce and pet custody proceedings should be more relaxed, and you can share the responsibility. But what if you lived in a state that had archaic pet/property laws?

I Want My Pet!

If you live in a state other than the three mentioned above, the law still views your furry friend as property.

At this point, it would be best if you and your spouse could put aside your feelings and differences for a moment. Have a heartfelt dialogue about your pet, and what is best for him/her.

If both sides can agree on what to do, most judges would be amenable to making it happen.

However, if the two of you can’t agree on how to share pet caring duties, your divorce just got a little more complicated.

Evidence-Based Persuasion Tactics

Remember, your spouse will be fighting as hard as you are for “custody” of your pet. You need to persuade the judge to allow you sole custody of the pet. To pull this off, you need to prove that the pet will be better off with you, plus a few documents as evidence.

  • Ownership/adoption documents showing you’re the registered owner of the pet.
  • Photos and videos of you and the pet before you got married.
  • Evidence that your work schedule gives you enough time to care for your pet.
  • Receipts, prescriptions, and other documents from the vet that show you were responsible for taking the pet when sick, for shots, etc.
  • Photos or videos of you and the pet before anyone filed for divorce.
  • Evidence shows you can provide a secure home and enough space (a yard would be great) for your pet in your house.
  • Receipts from the pet store with your name to prove that you were the one who bought toys, food, etc.
  • Photos, videos, or other evidence showing you took your pet to training lessons, walks, playtime, etc.

You Should Always Do What’s Best for Your Pet

best for your dog

While the thought of losing your pet in divorce is devastating, you should take a minute and think about what’s best for your fur baby. Divorce can take its toll not only on you, but on the ones you love the most, and that includes your pet.

Ask yourself what is really in your pet’s best interests? Do you have space, time, and funds to give your pet a beautiful life? In most cases, pet owners do it for themselves and don’t take into consideration their pets’ wellbeing – a sad fact, but it happens.

Brush your ego aside when grappling with the reality of who should take ownership of your pet. If your pet is better off with you, then fight tooth and nail for the right to do so! But if you can’t take care of your pet and your spouse can provide a better home, then it’s time to let go.

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