The Law Offices of Christine G. DeBernardis

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Who Gets Our Family Dog in the Divorce?

It’s a common scenario.  Boy meets girl and they fall in love.  They buy a home or rent an apartment.  Wanting to share their love, they adopt a dog. Over the next year or so, they get married.  Their dog is their baby.  They share photos of him on social media sites, take him on vacations and give him the best world a canine can possibly have.  And then, they split up.  The question is: Who Gets Our Family Dog in the Divorce?

In many divorces, property disputes and custody battles involve houses and children.  More and more often, the family pet can be cause for an all out war.  Although most pet owners do not see it this way, the law views pets as a form of property.  This can be very upsetting for a family to hear.  Some clients have told me very simply, “she can have anything we own but I want our dogs.”   If the other party feels exactly the same way, this becomes a battle over property, nothing more, in the eyes of the court.

The Law
The Court views your dog as property.  Because animals are property, there are no custody rights.  There are no rights for visitation and bringing the pet back and forth.  Property is distributed in a divorce to one party or the other.  It cannot be shared between the two.  There must be a final distribution of the “asset.”   So, one gets the dog.  The other says goodbye.   Once the property is distributed, the assets stay with whom they are.   There is no modification of property distribution.  The decision is final and is not able to be modified.  With any luck, the two parties can agree in which household the party ends up living.  However, much the same as your dining room furniture, if you can’t agree, the Court will make this decision.

What do I do?
Without custody rights or visitation for the spouse that doesn’t keep the dog, the only way to handle this is to attempt an agreement with the other party.  If the parties are able to work out an agreement, and are sensitive to the other’s position, they can work something out so that both people see the dogs.  Even in this situation, however, if one won’t let the other see the dogs, the Court isn’t getting involved in a contempt to enforce the visiting with the dog or a modification to change the order.  The order is final and it is not a subject of future debate in the Court.   The unfortunate reality of this is that at any time, the party that was awarded the dog in the divorce can decide not to allow the other to see the dogs.  There isn’t much recourse in that event.  That being the case, aim t9obe the party that keeps the dog and give the other party the visits.  That way, the tables can never turn on you in the future.

Do you have a dog – or other animal – that means the world to you?   Contact me to help you work towards keeping your beloved animal when it is time to make that decision.

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