Who Gets The Dog In A Divorce?

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Divorce Law
This article was reviewed and approved for publication by Attorney Charlotte Christian.

Who Gets The Dog In A DivorcePets & Divorce Create A Bone Of Contention

When it comes to pets and divorce, there are added layers of considerations to make. Believe it or not, divorce isn’t only hard on you, your spouse, and your children. It also poses an emotional experience for your “fur babies.” As man’s best friend, science shows that dogs feel this loss/separation anxiety especially intensely.

Veterinary behaviorist Dr. Nicholas Dodman explains that dogs can “get into a funk or lose interest in life, because of separation. With long-term separation, or loss, dogs suffer bereavement and get depressed, not unlike humans,” he continued. “Dogs have a difficult time adjusting to an owner or family member being removed from the household. This is especially the case if the person is someone to whom the dog is close — for example, a dog sleeps in someone’s room, and then suddenly that person is out of the picture. The dog can’t understand why that person has disappeared.”

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Pets & Divorce By The Numbers

Statistically, over 70 million (+62%) American households include at least one pet. Millions of dollars are spent every year on pet care. However, it is important to note that approximately 50% of marriages in the U.S. end in divorce. Logically speaking then, many of the divorcing couples are pet owners. Reports from the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers support this theory, pointing out there has been a marked (27%) increase in pet custody disputes.

The ASPCA has determined divorce to be one of the most common reasons why people decide to rehome or relinquish their dogs. Pets and divorce are a big deal, as hundreds of thousands of dogs each year are placed into the shelter system due to couples calling it quits.

Questions To Ask Regarding Pets & Divorce

Couples who choose to fight in the courtroom to maintain ownership of their pets in a divorce settlement find that their beloved pet is legally considered merely personal property. This means that judges presiding over divorce cases go through the same steps to determine who gets the pet as they do to decide who gets the boat or the lawnmower!

This means that if you are unable to come to an amicable determination prior to the divorce, you will need to be prepared to prove that your furry friend is better off staying by your side. These could include items such as:

Ownership Or Adoption Papers Reflecting You As The Pet’s Registered Owner

Receipts and/or signed statements from the vet, pet store, training classes, or neighbors showing you as the one most often responsible for his/her medical care and well-being

Pre-Divorce Filing Photos Of You With Your Pet

Proof that you will be fully capable of providing an adequate amount of space, appropriate housing, and enough time in your lifestyle to care for the animal after the divorce is finalized

A Dog Eat Dog Situation

Get Your Divorce Case Professionally Handled By Charlotte Christian Law In AlabamaWhile one of you may be able to demonstrate the importance of the pet to the children, or other pets, affected by the relationship division, Zoei Sutton, a Flinders University Ph.D. student, points out, “We tend to focus on how pets can help humans during times of separation or upheaval…

However, this can then mean pets are shuttled between houses with kids rather than allowed to settle in one residence or can be left with the person not necessarily best suited to care for the animal.” Be sure to consider the best interest of the pet.

Towards this end, there are movements underway by some animal rights advocates to change the view of pets from personal property to being treated as sentient individuals entitled to certain rights of their own. According to the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), “Although animals are considered property in the eyes of the law at this time, some courts are beginning to recognize that one’s relationship with this particular form of property known as the family cat, dog, bird etc., is much different from one’s relationship with other forms of property such as your couch, your watch or your coffee pot.”

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FAQs About Pets & Divorce In Alabama

Where Will My Dog/Cat Live After I Divorce?

Many factors dictate where a pet lives after divorce. As mentioned above, many courts treat pets as property. If you came with the pet, you will most likely stay with your pet after a divorce. However, many other variables will be considered. For instance, if you brought a pet, but it gets care from your ex-spouse, he/she will have the upper hand during custody.

Other factors like commingling will also be considered. If the pet was originally one person’s property but transitioned into marital property, such instances give both ex-spouses equal grounds for claiming custody. The court also focuses on other factors such as who buys the pet food, who pays vet bills, and who provides other marital assets.

What’s more, if marital funds have been used to care for the pet all long, the pet is likely to be treated as marital property. Also, the parent who gets custody is generally given priority to live with the pet/s for obvious reasons. Since there isn’t a definite formula to ensure you keep your pet, the importance of hiring a seasoned divorce attorney can’t be overemphasized.

How Does Pet Visitation Work?

Assuming you don’t get custody of your pet, how do you ensure you spend time? Pet visitation is a rare subject. However, if the matter is brought before a court, it is generally decided based on typical child visitation schedules.

If your ex is given ownership or “Custody” of your pet, they should allow you to visit and see the pet at agreed times. Normally, such arrangements are made between couples. However, if there are disagreements, a court can allocate specific time based on typical factors affecting visitation.

What Is The Best Interest Of Your Pet?

Judges decide on pet matters based on the best interests of a pet. However, what exactly does that mean? While pet matters are rare in divorce matters, judges generally decide who is best-suited to take better care of the pet based on numerous factors discussed above (from child custody to day-to-day care).

How Will My Pet Be Affected By Divorce?

As divorce and pet ownership rates increase, it’s understandable to want to know how your pet will be affected by divorce. Since households treat pets as family members as opposed to personal property, the effects of a divorce on a beloved family dog or cat should be considered.

As per the ALDF, courts have begun considering the bond formed between pet owners and their pets as a more significant bond than that of a person and their property. Courts consider factors such as feeding, litter box maintenance, supervision, shelter cleaning, exercise, and grooming as factors that are most likely to be affected by divorce or separation.

Vet appointments are also likely to be affected as well as other factors like ample social interaction with other dogs and people. Also, the financial stability of the person assuming care will affect a pet negatively or positively. Pets can be costly to keep. Your dog needs a dog walker, nutritious dog food, and other things that cost money.

Looking For A Family Law Attorney Near Me HuntsvilleYou should also expect the bond between the pet and family members to be affected. Whoever brings a pet to a marriage should be the one who gets to keep the pet. However, if your spouse forms a stronger bond, he/she may have a stronger case. Insisting to keep a pet when your partner has a stronger bond may not be good for your pet.

The new living arrangements will also affect your pet, especially when the person who is supposed to live with the pet can’t do so because of circumstances. Assuming you are moving to a new apartment that isn’t pet-friendly, your pet may be forced to live with your ex, who isn’t as capable as you are on pet matters. As a result, your pet is likely to be affected negatively in many aspects.

Generally, pet matters after a divorce should be considered in depth. Like child custody, decisions should be made in a pet’s best interests. A seasoned Alabama divorce lawyer can help solve matters regarding pets and divorce.

How Do I Get Pet Custody In Alabama?

Before seeking pet custody, ask yourself who pays for your dog’s or cat’s living expenses. Also, you need proof of the same. What’s more, determine the pet’s routine. For instance, how many times do you feed, wash, and walk your pet? Other important questions include; who spends more time with the pet and has a stronger bond?

Whoever gets custody must be more invested in the pet emotionally, financially, and in other ways. If you can show you provide for the pet, care for the pet, and spend more time with the pet than your ex-spouse, you will have a stronger case.

However, you shouldn’t attempt to pursue pet custody alone. You need a divorce attorney to craft a strong case that will convince the judge that granting you custody is in the pet’s best interest. 

Like other cases, you need evidence that includes but isn’t limited to expenses, veterinary reports, etc. A seasoned divorce attorney in Alabama can help you gather such evidence and win pet custody with ease.

I Can’t Agree With My Ex On Pet Custody. What Will Happen?

If you can’t agree with an ex on any matter involving custody (including pet custody), you should prepare for a court battle. Generally, you’ll need to have pet ownership papers that show you are a registered pet owner. A signed statement and receipts from a veterinarian who treats your pet will also come in handy.

Other receipts from the pet store, training classes, or other wellness-related activities will make your case better. It also helps to have many pictures and videos of you and your pet to prove your bond. Lastly, you should provide evidence that you have the time and resources to take care of your pet. Ideally, the pet should maintain the same standard of living or better. Most importantly, hire a divorce attorney with expertise in pet custody in Alabama.

We Understand That Pets Are Family

At this time, only Alaska and Illinois have enacted pet-custody legislation. A Rhode Island lawmaker has also recently introduced a similar bill. This movement has yet to reach Alabama, but at the Alabama Law Group, we understand that your pets are valuable to you; they are family. As you strive to help your pet cope with this difficult time, let us stand with you to help you obtain the best solution for your “furriest child.” Connect with our pet-loving attorneys for a consultation to help you determine what options exist for you and your pets.

It’s not an easy process, but with the right family law attorney, you can leverage the ways that the situation is treated and come through the experience more financially prepared. Talk to a professional in Charlotte Christian Law by calling us at (256) 769-0508 or contacting us through our contact form.

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