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When a Divorce Is a Dogfight: Determining Custody of the Family Dog

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It might sound grim, but did you know that (legally speaking) your dog is similar to your garden furniture? This is because dogs are legally defined as property, and that property has an owner. While the very thought might be offensive, this is the reality of the situation as far as the law is concerned. And because dogs are property, ownership of this very special property might be disputed during a divorce.

The Dog's Best Interests

A divorce doesn't have to be messy, and when a dog is involved, the animal's best interests should be the priority. Has the dog bonded more with you or your partner (or your children, but more about that in a moment)? Is there any one person who assumes the most responsibility for the dog's care? Which party will be living in a property most suitable for the dog? By asking these questions, you might gain a better idea of just what is in the dog's best interests. As sad as it is, you may need to acknowledge the fact that the family dog might be better off with your former spouse.

A Claim of Ownership

It's not always so easy to be objective about what might be in the dog's best interests. In any case, both you and your former spouse could be suitable candidates to be the dog's primary caregiver. It undoubtedly sounds awful, but it may even be possible for one partner to freeze the other out of any custody decision. Since a dog is considered to be property, whoever has the strongest claim of ownership can be at an advantage. Think back to who paid the purchase or adoption fee for the dog, along with whose name the dog is registered. However, just because one party has a stronger claim to ownership, it doesn't mean that the other party will no longer see the dog.


It is possible to share custody of the dog. After formally filing for divorce, the specifics of the separation are worked out in mediation. Many people hire a family law solicitor to assist them with the mediation process, and you should strongly consider doing so. The mediation process allows you and your former spouse to make decisions about the division of assets, any financial support either party might be entitled to, as well as custody arrangements for your children. It can also include discussions about shared custody for your dog.

Sharing Custody

Provided both of you can provide an appropriate home for your dog, there's no reason why you can't share your fur baby. This should be formalised as part of the mediation process. If you have (human) children, you can use these custody arrangements as a guide. On the days of the week that your children spend with you, the dog can also come, and the same goes for the days where your former spouse has custody.

Sure, what's in the dog's best interests should always be the priority, but saying goodbye to your spouse doesn't mean you have to say goodbye to your dog.