Who Gets the Pets?

PetsA tricky part of divorce can be who gets the cat or dog. This is not about a race horse whose value may be counted as an asset.

Millions of dollars in assets have been divided, yet couples nearly came to blows over the pets, according to my divorce attorney. She stated this emotional issue has slowed down divorce proceedings in some of her cases. Couples in hectic careers may have put off having children or decided not to have any at all. Particularly in these instances, animals can have a more central role in the couple’s lives.

Here are some ways that realistically help decide:

Is one spouse going to stay in the family house that has the dog run and the other is moving to a small apartment? Does your dog or cat have animal buddies in the neighbourhood? Maybe one spouse is moving abroad after the divorce, which makes it more challenging to transport family pets. Try to look at this situation from what would be the pet’s point of view to see what is really in their best interest. Usually, whatever pet a person brought into the marriage, goes to them in a divorce (like with personal possessions).

The collaborative attorneys determine who the primary caretaker is – who goes to the vet’s, buys food and supplies and generally spends the most time with the pets. If one parent is getting physical custody of the little humans, then the pets may be awarded to them also. The court may look at lifestyles in determining pet custody. When one spouse travels nearly half of the month for a job or has very long commutes and the other one works from home, then this is a factor for who gets the dog.

Flexibility and creativity are useful tools for working out this dilemma. One woman got the two dogs after a breakup. She travels a lot for work and requires a pet sitter. Guess who that is – yes, it is her ex. He is happy seeing the dogs periodically and she goes away reassured that her canine kids will get loving care. A few former couples decided that the children and dog are a unit and go together back and forth between parental homes. The children enjoy having the dog go with them and neither parent has to terminate their relationship with the furry family member.

Look at your motivation for wanting the pet. Some people may fight for custody more out of retaliation than affection. If you sense that your spouse is doing this, perhaps give a little more and let them have an extra painting or some other asset in exchange for the pet. If you both are not able to come to an agreement, consider mediation for this aspect of your divorce. They may help you both come up with an arrangement that is not all or none in terms of custody. My husband and I had to have a custody evaluator decide what was best for our children. Our attorneys had us sign an agreement to abide by whatever her custody decision would be. Something along this line could be done for pet custody when there is a battle over them.

Whoever gives up the pet in divorce will have a gaping hole in their hearts and lives. They will go through the grief process for this traumatic loss. Allow time to mourn and if feeling stuck, consider talking to a divorce or life coach. Nurture yourself and vent to friends. Get out of the house to do some pleasurable pursuits, even if just walking around a park and soaking up the benefits of being in nature. Give yourself some time to get over this situation before adopting another pet. Shelters and rescue groups are looking for kindhearted people to provide temporary foster homes for animals waiting to be adopted. Volunteering with animal non-profits is a way to get your animal fix. One friend volunteers at the London Zoo and I feed and take care of kitties weekly for a cat rescue group. Whether you lose a beloved animal friend through divorce or death, the pain does diminish in time.


Work Out a Fair Divorce Agreement for the Sake of Your Beloved Pets


This article, written by Wendy Schuller, originally appeared on www.divorcemag.com

Posted by Sinta Ebersohn (Creator of fairdivorce.co.za – Stellenbosch RSA)