Five Questions to Ask When Deciding Pet Custody

Divorce is a complex, difficult time. One often over-looked aspect of divorce that can make it especially challenging is figuring out what to do with a shared pet. You both love your pet, but you’re no longer going to live together in the same home. Where does your dog or cat go? How can you avoid the messiness of lawyer or judge involvement? Here are five questions to keep in mind.

Who Paid for the Pet?

If you are unable to work out pet custody arrangements informally, your attorney may need to make this matter part of your divorce settlement. In this case, a judge is likely to look at the pet as an asset, and ask who paid to buy or adopt the pet.

In addition, if you have been financially responsible for things like vet appointments and food, it may make sense for you to keep the pet since you have shown you are willing to pay pet-related expenses. Be sure to hold onto any receipts that show you’ve historically been the spouse to pay for pet care.

In some cases, if you insist on keeping the pet but your spouse paid for it, you may need to offer to reimburse them for the cost.

Who Spends the Most Time with the Pet?

Another important consideration is who spends the most time with the pet. For example, if you work from home and walk your dog every afternoon, while your spouse works long hours in an office and also travels for work, it may be best for your pet if you’re the one to keep them.

Ultimately, you and your spouse should both want what’s best for your pet, even if that means relinquishing custody to your ex so that your pet will get enough time and attention. Your pet is most likely more attached to whichever owner spends the most time with it.

What About Your Kids?

If you have children, this should factor into your plan for your pet. Your kids are most likely very attached to the pet, and vice versa. If one parent has primary custody of the children, it may make the most sense for that parent to keep the pet as well. Disruption of routine and instability can have a negative effect on both children and pets, and a plan that allows them to stay together can help counteract the disruptive nature of divorce.

Is Sharing an Option?

If your divorce is amicable, you may want to consider sharing custody of your pet, much as you would with a child. One option is to alternate weeks with your ex. This allows you both to maintain ownership of your beloved pet, and lets your pet continue to enjoy its relationship with both of you. It also allows you the flexibility of going on vacation without having to hire a pet sitter. Of course, if your divorce is at all contentious you may not want this continued link to your spouse.

Do You Have More Than One Pet?

If you have two or more pets, you may want to divvy them up based on which pet is the most attached to which spouse. This way, you each get to continue owning at least one of your pets. Bear in mind, however, that this may not be an ideal solution if your pets are very attached to each other and will react negatively to being separated.

Pet ownership certainly complicates divorce. But, with a little thoughtful planning and by focusing on the needs of your pet, you can certainly work out a solution.