Who Gets the Dog?

Divorce can become even more stressful when pets are involved and both parties are attached. While many people feel as though their pets are part of the family, the law doesn’t see it that way.

In a divorce, a dispute over a pet is not treated like a child custody matter, where the court must look at what is in the best interest of the child and works towards a goal of frequent and continuing contact with each parent. Rather, a pet is treated as a piece of property, just as a car or any other inanimate object would be. This means that if a court is deciding the fate of a pet, the pet will be awarded to one party or another as his or her property. Consistent with the California community property laws, if the pet was owned by one spouse prior to marriage, the pet remains that spouse’s separate property after divorce.

Just as with any other piece of property, couples are free to make agreements with each other as to what will happen in case of a divorce. This can be done via a pre-nuptial or a post-nuptial agreement. Additionally, pet custody arrangements can be agreed upon at divorce if couples are willing to work together and not get the court involved in that aspect of their lives.

Some things to consider when going through a divorce or separation where pets are involved:

  • Divorce affects pets too! Especially dogs. Going back and forth between homes may cause behavioral problems (just like it often does in young children.) This can be especially true where the pet is more attached to one spouse or the other, and extended periods of time away from the more attached spouse may be difficult.
  • If you have children, consider the effects of separating the children from the pets.
  • Please don’t try to take the pet just to hurt your spouse.
  • Consider which spouse’s work schedule is more conducive to spending the most time with the pet.
  • If you have more than one pet and are considering splitting them between you, also consider the effect that such a split may have on the pet, and your children if you have any.

Unfortunately, it is too often that we divorce attorneys we see people using their pets as a tool to hurt their spouse. Sometimes one spouse will choose to withhold a pet just to spite the other party. Divorce is hard enough already. When spouses are able to work together to create an agreement that works best for them and their family, it makes things a little easier. Even though many people in relationships don’t like to consider what will happen should the relationship end, it is always best to make a plan and pre-nuptial or post-nuptial agreements can be very effective in this regard.

Please contact us if you are considering a divorce from your spouse, a legal separation, or have questions regarding child custody and visitation. Nancy J. Bickford is the only Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) in San Diego County who is also a licensed Certified Public Accountant (CPA) with a Master of Business Administration (MBA). Don’t settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.


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