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When a couple divorce, who keeps the dog?

To some, the question ‘who gets custody of the dog after a divorce?’ will be deeply trivial; the divisions of assets such as property, savings and pensions are, they’d argue, key to a settlement and everything else is superfluous. To others, the destination of the family pet is more important than anything.

Herein lies the rub: a dog, cat, goldfish or any other pet is, within the context of a divorce settlement, considered to be a possession. Whilst the separating couple will be concerned with their pet’s wellbeing, the legal system views the animal no differently to a car or television. This means that the creature’s welfare will not be considered if the courts are asked to rule on where a pet should live.

Should a divorcing couple be unable to agree on residency arrangements for a pet, it’s likely that the court will consider who paid for the animal as well as who paid for their food, vet bills etc. when ruling on who should keep them. This means that pets are treated in much the same way as, say, a car would be in these proceedings. The bond that owners so often forge with their pets makes the task of deciding which spouse will keep them infinitely harder than agreeing who keeps a piece of furniture or ornament, however.

How can a separating couple decide?

Fortunately, there is an approach which, whilst it is not certain to resolve dispute, does increase the likelihood of a solution being found: working hard at being as dispassionate as possible.

It’s not easy but working at putting emotions to one side is the only way contentious matters regarding settlements are achieved without help. Key to making such discussions fruitful, though, is the need for those involved to be tolerant of the fact that the other party will become emotional at times. If both allow their feelings to take control, there is no way negotiations will be even partly successful.

What you should consider

There are a number of other things you’ll need to take into consideration when deciding where your pet will live, chief amongst these are:

  1. Should the children live with the family pet?

This is something of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the children probably love their family pet even more than their parents and so it can be logical to conclude that it should live with them. On the other, the parent that no longer cares for the children is likely to live alone and would therefore benefit from the company.

Parents, however, need to put the needs of their children before their own and accept that the family pet should remain with the children. By way of a compromise, the animal could accompany the children whenever they stay with their non-resident parent.

  1. Who’s best placed to care for your pet?

If it’s possible to objectively determine which person is able to provide the animal with what it needs, then it’s evident that’s who they should live with.

If, for example, the pet in question is a large dog and one spouse enjoys long walks whilst the other doesn’t, it’s logical that the dog lives with the former. If one party works part-time, they’ll have more free-time and, again, be more able to care for a pet as a result.

  1. Could you share custody of your pet?

Whilst it’s an option that a separating couple will need to consider carefully, there’s no reason why a pet cannot reside with both on a shared basis.

Granted, such an arrangement could be inconvenient (it’s completely impractical if it’ll involve a substantial commute) but, by providing both parties with a bit of what they want, it could also be the best way of resolving the dispute.


When both spouses have developed an emotional attachment to it, deciding where a family pet should live post-divorce is no mean feat. If the couple genuinely care about the welfare of their pet, however, the importance of making such a decision without the assistance of the courts cannot be understated.

In legal proceedings, pets are treated in the same way as all other items and their living arrangements will be decided not by considering what will best suit their needs, but which party’s money was used to purchase, feed and house it. The only way for a couple to ensure that the animal’s needs determine arrangements is to agree them without the need to go to court.


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