Separation or Divorce: What will Happen to My Dog?

All animals are sentient beings capable of feeling pain and showing affection. And they too are impacted by the consequences of a separation or a divorce, just as it happens with children. Therefore, you must know how to handle an inevitable separation in order to cause the least possible trauma in your pet.
Separation or Divorce: What will Happen to My Dog?

Last update: 03 May, 2019

Pending your separation or divorce, is your pet already a part of the division of goods? Have you established a schedule for visitations? Have you discussed with your spouse or life partner who’ll keep the pet in the event of a separation or a divorce? All of these are issues you should consider. Continue reading to find out more about it.

Animals are aware of emotional problems and overall changes in the atmosphere of their home and they act accordingly. Many pets whose humans are going through a separation or a divorce feel sad, depressed and even modify certain behaviors. They may bark all day, bite anything they find in their path, and even urinate on the couch. They may even develop nervous, self-destructive habits such as chewing on their own tails.

Dogs are greatly affected by separation or divorce

Dogs are deeply hurt when their owners separate. They’re family-inclined beings, after all. They like their routine and the presence of all the members of their “pack”, and the peace of mind and emotional well-being that this brings them.

In the case of cats, who are more territorial, they’re mainly affected by changes in location and having to adapt to new spaces.

Who should keep the pet?

A distressed man sitting on a couch.

Beyond the reasons that may have led to your separation or divorce, it’s very important that you reach an agreement in regard to the pet you adopted together. It’s not the same as dividing the furniture or selling your common assets.

If it isn’t possible to reach a mutual friendly agreement, then there’s always the option of taking the matter to court so a judge can decide who the pet will stay with. Do try to settle it between yourselves, though. Legal matters are lengthy and costly, and most of the time the results aren’t very fair.

Separation and custody of a dog

First of all, you should know the legal status of animals in the USA. Some civil codes indicate that pets are property, just like any piece of furniture. On the other hand, in others they’re considered sentient beings with the same rights children have in the event of a separation.

In the first case, either of the partners can claim a pet. However, if the animal was already the legal property of one of them, then they’ll have the right to keep the pet. In that case, the other person has no say in what happens to the animal.

There are two types of pet custody: joint or sole. The court ruling will depend on the specific situation of the two partners who are separating or divorcing.

1. Joint custody

A woman, a dog, and a seemingly male hand in a patio.

If there’s no mutual agreement in regard to who’ll keep the pet between the people involved, then a judge may establish joint custody. They alone will determine whose house the animal will live in and a schedule of visits for its other owner.

The pet may receive visits at home or go elsewhere; it’ll all depend on the particular situation. Some people even choose to take them away on trips or switch places weekly or monthly.

Keep in mind that changes in housing, environment, and routine are very stressful for a pet. It isn’t advisable to do so with cats, who are extremely sensitive to these kinds of alterations to their routine.

2. Sole custody

You should know that custody isn’t always a very friendly process. Sometimes a judge has to be the one who decides who’ll keep the dog, cat or other family pet. But what will it depend on? The judge will take into account the following:

  • Who acquired it
  • The main caregiver
  • Who has more space at home
  • Who spends more time at home

Another important issue here is whether there are children involved. In this case then the custody of the pet will usually be where the children are. And, in most cases, it’s the mother who gets to keep them so as not to disturb the children, and also to reduce separation traumas. All of this will be taken into account by the judge who determines who gets the custody.

Appealing the decision

Of course, this doesn’t mean that the other party can’t appeal the decision. They can even try to demonstrate a case of abuse or neglect, or that the selected custodian can’t ensure the well-being of the pet in question. To do this, it’s necessary to make a face-to-face declaration in the corresponding office and provide evidence and witnesses to document it.

During a separation or a divorce, there’ll be many things to resolve. Who gets to keep the family pet is one of the most complicated problems because it’s a sentient being, not an object.

So, a good way to choose who the dog or cat should stay with is to recognize who the dog spends the most time with and is most attached to. It’s not an easy situation, but we must look at things from our pet’s point of view.

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