Tips for handling the family dog in divorce

Tips for handling the family dog in divorce

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Think the family pet can’t cause issues in divorce? When researchers at Georgia Regents University asked hundreds of people who they would save if given the choice between a dog or a human, nearly half (40 percent) said they would save their pet over the life of a stranger if forced to choose.

Still not convinced? Consider these statistics:

  • Over 90 percent of dog owners view their pet as part of the family (Harris poll)
  • 40 percent of female married dog owners say they get more emotional support from their dog than from their spouse or children (American Animal Hospital Association poll)
  • About half of all pet owners frequently or occasionally buy birthday presents for their pets (Harris)

Pet “custody” is not a thing in Colorado. At least, not yet.

Courts decide disputed custody cases based on the “best interests of the child.” Under the law, however, pets are property, not family. As such, the court will not issue a visitation schedule or otherwise spend time considering what is best for the pet. Neither will courts decide who is the better “parent” to the dog. 

Because pets are property, only legal considerations regarding property division are factored in a court’s decision. For example, if one spouse gifted the pet to the other, it might be considered the separate property of the spouse who received the gift. It could also matter if one person had the pet prior to beginning the marriage.

States have begun to address the issue of pet custody through legislation, as the number of divorce cases where the dog is the main issue in dispute have risen in recent years. However, Colorado does not have any specific law regarding who gets the dog in divorce.

Tips for deciding what to do with the pet

It is typically easiest for the parties to a divorce to agree on pet custody and visitation themselves. In other words, each of the parties can decide with whom the pet lives, and for how long, without having the court decide. It is also a good idea to have a written agreement on who is responsible for the expenses associated with the pet.

While the law will not view your dog as part of the family, if you and your soon-to-be ex can treat the matter respectfully, the main issues can often be resolved.   

Your divorce lawyer should also be familiar with how to best handle the resolution of a disputed pet.