Who Gets The Dog in a Divorce?

Dec 11, 2018   ·   4 minute read
Who Gets The Dog in a Divorce?

Few of us can’t have been moved by the sight of photographs of Ant McPartlin being greeted by what appeared to be his rather boisterous Labrador dog after the two of them had spent time apart following his separation from his wife, Lisa.

All specialist divorce and children solicitors know the theory behind child attachment and the damage that can be done if, as a result of a separation, one parent loses touch with a child. In an age where we treat our pets as mini humans, with doggie day care, and a vast array of outfits and treats, not to mention the doggie Christmas stocking, it really isn’t surprising that as an experienced Manchester divorce solicitor I am increasingly asked ‘who gets the dog’ as part of the divorce and financial settlement negotiations. On many occasions I have gained the impression that the dog is just as important as money considerations. Many people without pets, and some family solicitors and judges, just don’t get that.

In my experience sometimes a husband or wife wants the dog as a means of hurting their spouse, knowing just how important the animal is to their husband or wife, or as a means of continuing control through allowing the occasional access visit. For other couples it is a genuine dilemma with both husband and wife thinking that the dog is better off with them. So if a couple just can’t reach an agreement over who should get the dog then it can be left to a judge to make a decision as to the dog’s future.

The Law On Who Gets Custody Of The Dog

For dog lovers it is hard to credit but when it comes to divorce and financial settlement negotiations or court proceedings a dog is treated, in legal terms, as if he or she is a piece of furniture that just happens to be a living and breathing creature. What does that mean for the dog? Well it means that a divorce judge will not be able to decide on if the dog should stay with the husband or wife based on the judge’s assessment of the spouse who is most likely to meet the dog’s physical and emotional needs in the short and long term.

Factors The Court Considers When Deciding Who Gets The Dog?

What the court will not be influenced by is the doleful eyes and whimper. Instead the divorce court will look at factors such as:

  • Who paid for the dog; and
  • Was the dog given to the other spouse as a gift; and
  • Who has paid to look after the dog, for example paid for the daily doggie day care or the vet’s fees?

Nowhere on that list is the dog’s preference if he or she could have a say or even vote with their feet.

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Using The Dog As A Bargaining Tool

Using a child and threats of child custody battles as a bargaining tool in financial settlement negotiations is depreciated but as an experienced Manchester divorce and financial settlement solicitor I still see cases where the dog is being used as a powerful bargaining tool in a divorce settlement. You can imagine the conversation, ‘’ you get Rover, and I get to keep the house’’.  Some spouses feel backed into a corner knowing that if a judge had to decide who gets the dog then the judge would not find in their favour, despite the dog being better off with them.

Shared Custody Of The Dog

It isn’t that uncommon for a spouse to offer to share the care of the dog, often in a last ditch attempt to try and reach an agreement. For some couples that arrangement might work, especially where there are children and the dog and the children follow the same shared care parenting regime. For other households sharing the care of the dog would just add to the animal’s confusion, especially if there is no consistency in the dog’s routine or diet.

What Can You Do To Gain Custody?

When it comes to sorting out who the dog should live with you may need a tough negotiator, a solicitor who can stand back from the emotions and guide you on your legal options and the likely prospects of success if you were to pursue a court application for the dog.