Our pets are more like our kids than our property.
When it comes to dogs and divorce, the law doesn’t see it that way.
The law sees your dog as property.
(And treats them as such.)
If you want to know the best way to keep your dog in a divorce, keep reading.
Divorce can be devastating. It’s heartbreaking when parents lose custody of their children. Spouses end up having to pay agonizing amounts of financial support.
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To know how to navigate dogs and divorce, we have to have a small understanding of the laws about dogs and divorce.
In 48 states, the law considers your dog a piece of property.
I know how you feel. I wouldn’t really consider our Frenchie our property. It’s more likely that we are his property.
But jokes aside, this means that the courts view your pets as items that you can sell during the property settlement phase of a divorce.
Imagine being forced to sell your dog and split the proceeds with your spouse.
The only states that do not view dogs as property is Alaska and Illinois.
As you can imagine, figuring out, in a divorce, who gets the dog is a very hot topic of debate.
If you’re a dog parent you’re probably a fanatic about your little friend.
I bet you even consider your dog as part of the family – not just something you own.
I mean, I’d fight pretty hard to get my little buddy, Tater.
Sometimes, couples can agree on a custodial schedule for the dog before a divorce goes to court.
But if you and your spouse are not having an amicable divorce and cannot figure out a reasonable custody agreement for the dog, then you’re going to have to battle it out in court.
I’ll go ahead and tell you – when you’re faced with a dog and divorce, you don’t want the decision of who gets the dog to go to court.
The judge has ZERO standard rules when it comes to who gets the dog in a divorce.
They can make the decision in ANY way that they want to.
One time, we had a client who was absolutely in love with her dog.
Basically, the dog was hers.
We could tell because whenever we would do out virtual meetings for the divorce, the dog was always in her lap.
She was always loving the dog unconditionally.
You just FELT the bond that they had.
They loved each other.
But her husband decided to be spiteful.
He wanted to battle it out and keep the dog for himself.
They fought for months. We had dozens of conversations with his lawyer to see if we could come to a fair solution.
He wouldn’t budge.
So, we ended up having to take the decision to court.
They bickered and fought and couldn’t come to an agreement.
Finally, the judge had had enough of the drama.
He rescheduled them to come back.
But this time, with the dog.
He didn’t give any details. He just said, come back with the dog next time.
When we got back to the courtroom the following week, he had us go out in the parking lot with the dog.
The spouses had to stand at opposite corners of the parking lot.
The dog was placed in the center of the parking lot in a kennel.
The rules were simple.
No food. No treats. No calling the dog.
Complete silence and no gestures whatsoever.
We flipped the lock up and the door opened ever so slightly.
The dog nuzzled his way out and stood there looking confused.
He glanced back and forth between the two owners for what felt like minutes.
Suddenly, he bolted.
The decision was made.
The husband got to keep the dog.
You see, the judge decided to give full custody to the spouse whom the dog ran to first.
It didn’t matter who took care of the dog, who loved it, who had a better relationship with him. Nothing mattered.
What mattered was who the dog HAPPENED to run to first.
Our client was devastated.
She had lost her best friend.
After the court had settled the custody, we all walked out together.
Her husband was putting the dog in the car.
Packed up, he started to pull out of the parking lot.
The dog knew the mom was there, in the parking lot.
Staring out of the window that was partially rolled down, he started whimpering and pacing back and forth in the back seat.
Little did he know he wouldn’t be seeing his mom again.
(It doesn’t matter if your wife wants a divorce, you’re divorcing a husband who won’t work, or you’re getting a divorce as a stay at home mom. It just is what it is in this scenario.)
You’re leaving the decision of whether you EVER get to see your dog again in the hands of… the dog.
Dogs are somewhat smart, but that doesn’t mean you’re getting what you want.
When this happens, though, you’re not left empty-handed. Your spouse generally has to pay you about $500-$1,000 for the custody of the dog.
We have seen a schedule of trading the dog every 2 or 4 weeks work best.
This allows the dog to settle in at each home for a few weeks.
And it means that you’re not constantly uprooting the dog’s whole life every week.
So, make sure that you and your spouse come to SOME agreement and put it into the divorce papers to make sure that you both get fair custody of the dog.
Plus, this will allow you to have a much more affordable divorce.
When you’re filing for divorce with children, a lot of judges value the children more than the spouses during a divorce.
This goes hand in hand when figuring out who gets the dog in a divorce.
Either the courts will award custody to the parent who has the kids the most, or they will let the dog follow the kids.
This just means that if you trade custody with the kids every week, the dog will follow suite.
And if you don’t share custody of the kids, then one of you is not getting the dog after the divorce.
If you are getting a divorce while pregnant, you may be forced to wait until after the birth to make custody decisions and finalize the divorce.
But if there are no children, chances are the court will just order a divorcing couple to sell the dog or have one party buy it from the other.
This, a lot of times, is not what’s best for the dog.
But the divorce laws surrounding dogs and divorce tell the judge NOT to care.
As you can imagine, there are animal rights movements where they are trying to get the laws to view dogs as sentient individuals and not property.
This means that dogs would have their own rights.
This won’t only affect who gets the dog in a divorce, but it also means that dogs will have veterinary malpractice cases.
I’m going to go ahead and say that if my wife could represent dogs, it’s game over for you guys.
She’d shut down the family law division.
But there may be a new wrinkle.
Emotional support animals could be the mechanism that changes pets’ legal status.
If you need the dog for emotional support, you could get full custody of the dog.
But heed the warning.
If you get caught faking the emotional support in ANY way, then there’s a very high likelihood that you’re not going to get to keep the dog.
And your spouse will be rewarded custody.
We had one client who was fighting for custody of their dog with his wife.
The dog had been her emotional support dog for years.
She had doctor’s notes and therapist’s notes.
She had all of the emotional support clothing for the dog.
To the naked eye, you would think it was the real deal.
But she tripped up.
The husband told us that she had printed off the emotional support documents from online.
They weren’t real.
They did this when they moved into their first apartment together.
But when we called the doctors, the information regarding this was private.
The doctor wouldn’t discuss anything with us.
Luckily for our client, the judge bypassed the privacy of the medical records with a subpoena.
We got a call from the judge.
The medical records had arrived.
“You’re gonna be happy.” He said.
The medical records didn’t have any information pertaining to the emotional support dog.
Meaning, she had faked it.
Turns out that she had created her own letter, slapped a logo on it, and printed it off.
Our client was rewarded full custody of the dog.
The wife never got to see the dog again.
This means that if you print off fake doctor’s notes or anything of the sort, you should reconsider this approach.
But if you REALLY do need the dog for emotional support, do this.
Get a note from your doctor AND your therapist.
(The more credibility you have, the better.)
Normally, it’s 100% your privacy as to what conditions the dog supports you for.
But if you’re fighting over custody, and there’s a chance you’ll never see your dog again, it might be a good idea to disclose how the dog helps you to the judge (and your divorce lawyer).
Just make sure that you dot your t’s and cross your i’s.
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