Divorce proceedings: Who keeps the pet dog?

Some people may laugh off the thought of squabbling over a pet during divorce proceedings; with so many assets to consider it may even be seen as the least of a parting couple’s worries.

However, for others, it’s the main concern. For some, pets are seen as children and as we all know, custody battles in this sense can drag on for a long time and be extremely costly.


The topic was recently discussed by David Turlington. He went on to say that when you balance the pet and divorce statistics up, there’s every chance of this being a frequent problem. For example, there are 80 million households, with over 60% of these having a pet. Then, with an average of two couples out of five who get married in a year then getting divorced, it stands to reason that problems can occur.

Bearing this in mind, let’s take a look at some of the facts and interesting cases that involve pets and divorces.

The 2013 Miniature Dachshund case

Unsurprisingly, there’s very little case law which can be attributed to this topic.

However, something that we did find was a case in New York in 2013, which focused on two women who were having a custody battle over their Miniature Dachshund.

At this point, we should probably point out that this is an extremely unusual case. Judges are very reluctant to hear anything regarding animal custody, for the simple reason that they don’t view it important enough.

It’s that last sentence which makes this case all-the-more interesting. This was one of the only cases where the judge ruled that he is worth more than a piece of property – based on the parting couple’s feelings about him.

Whether or not this acts as a precedent remains to be seen. Unfortunately, as the case was eventually settled out of court, there’s no formal outcome to report on. The fact that this is something of a landmark case explains how tricky “pet divorces” can become, but how there can be a path to the courts in a minority of cases.

Joint custody is currently a no-go area

Something that won’t be considered amongst judges, even in the 2013 case we have just looked at, is joint-custody. In fact, they will point-blank refuse to even hear a custody case – there’s no way through the divorce courts to arrange who gets to see the pet and when.

Private contracts can be arranged

Following on from the above, it’s interesting to note just some of the options in which divorcing couples have available to them.

While the courts might not be willing to listen to custody cases, it’s still possible to go through the private contract option. This involves hiring a lawyer to negotiate a private contract regarding custody of the pet.

Unfortunately, while this could occur in practice, there are still question marks on whether or not a court would be willing to enforce such contracts if disputes occurred.

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