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Divorce – Who Gets The Dog?

Divorce can be a difficult process to go through emotionally and mentally, as couples have to come to terms with the end of their relationship. There are also a host of practical matters to sort out, such as parenting arrangements as well as the division of finances and property, but it can also be challenging when it comes to deciding who will take ownership of the family dog and disputes over dog ownership are becoming increasingly common and can be a highly emotive subject.

If you and your partner are separating and you both want to keep your dog, it’s important to first try to come to a mutual agreement. This is sometimes easier said than done and is why family mediation can be an invaluable resource for couples who are divorcing or separating. Family mediation provides an impartial and confidential space for couples to come together and discuss their options and reach an agreement on who will take ownership of the pet.

If you would like to try and reach agreement with your ex on arrangements for your dog below are some things for you to think about :

  1. Consider the needs of your dog. If your dog needs daily walks and exercise, consider working out a schedule that will provide them with the care they need. Does one of you work from home more than the other and therefore can dedicate more time to the dog’s needs? How will you split the cost of the dog’s care, such as vet bills or food?

  2. Think about what type of arrangement would work best for both of you. Would you share custody, with one of you having the dog for certain days of the week or months of the year? Would one of you have full custody and the other have visitation rights? Would it be more stressful for your dog if it is constantly moving between two households, and therefore agreeing one home may be in the dog’s best interest? What will happen to the dog when either of you goes on holiday, will the other person be happy to look after it?

  3. Try to make sure you both have access to your dog. It is important to make sure that both of you can spend time with your dog and that they are not being deprived of essential care.

  4. Have an open dialogue about the arrangement. Do listen to each other’s concerns and try to negotiate a compromise that works for both of you.

  5. Put the arrangement in writing. This is important to ensure that both of you are clear on the details of the arrangement and can also help to avoid misunderstandings or disputes in the future.

If you and your ex-partner find it difficult to reach an agreement, it may be necessary to seek professional help. You may be considering going to court, but this process can be both long and expensive and before you take this route, you need to understand how courts class dogs.

Going to court

A dog is regarded by the legal system as a ‘chattel’, which means they are viewed as an item that is owned, such as a car, a piece of jewellery, a painting or a fridge. To many people a dog is a much-loved family member, with feelings and should not be treated the same as an item that can be replaced easily, but do not assume that this is how it will be viewed by a judge in court.

The court will determine who the owner is through evidence such as who bought the dog, whose name is recorded on the microchip database, or pet insurance, or who normally takes care of the dog. But there is no single piece of evidence that conclusively proves who owns a dog.

Family mediation is a much less stressful and expensive way of resolving disagreements about pet ownership than going to court, and it also allows couples to take ownership of their decisions and helps them to work together to find a solution that works for all parties.


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