It’s no secret that half of all marriages end in divorce, and that number seems to rise every year. Along with a rise in divorce comes a rise in canine custody battles. In cases of a domestic dispute over the ownership of a pet, courts generally view dogs as property.
In the eyes of the law, pets are defined as property. Therefore, in divorce cases, a judge’s decision about who gets custody of the pet requires no more legal consideration than deciding who gets the barbeque or the Barcalounger.
Unfortunately this is another case of our laws not keeping up with our lifestyles. We don’t view our animals as property, but as family members. There are no laws protecting the family couch from abuse. I don’t snuggle in bed with my teapot.
Rather than viewing our beloved pets as property in the eyes of the law and trying to simply divide them like assets in a divorce, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, ALDF, suggests the courts take other determining factors into consideration.
In determining who should be awarded custody, the court may want to consider which party has paid attention to the animal’s basic daily needs (food, shelter, physical care, exercise, grooming, flea control); who takes the animal to the veterinarian; who provides for social interactions (in the case of dogs) with other dogs and/or with people; who maintains appropriate supervision to assure that state and local regulations are complied with (licensing, not allowing the dog to run free and protecting against circumstances that would endanger her life or health); and who has the greatest ability to financially support the animal.
If you find yourself in a custody battle for your dog, remember that dogs can be emotionally impacted in the same ways that children can in a divorce. If you plan to fight for your dog (as many of us would) be prepared to show evidence of primary care for the dog. And, always remember what is going to be in the dog’s best interest, even if that means letting your ex take ownership.
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