Dogs and Divorce- Custody

The New York Divorce Report recently had an interesting post regarding pets and divorce. Being a dog fanatic myself (Golden Retriever and Black Lab in our family), I thought it was particularly interesting

When a childless couple divorces there is generally no issue of custody, except when there is a dispute about who will get custody of the four legged family members.

The ABA Journal E Report features a case in which a lawyer was appointed as guardian ad litem for a dog in a contested custody dispute. This report lead a columnist for the Times and Democrat to imagine the negotiation for custody of a dog in a divorce:

There would be many issues to discuss: Who will get primary custody and who will get visitation rights? Is joint custody a possibility? With whom does the dog spend holidays? Then there is the issue of doggie support: Who will be responsible for the dog’s veterinary care and the associated expenses? Who will pay for his grooming? Well, at least the couple wouldn’t have to argue about who pays for his education.

I would agree with the New Your Divorce Report that when a divorcing couple disputes custody of a dog or cat, courts have treated the matter not as a custody dispute but as a personal property issue. However, I have seen on a few occasions in Missouri courts, a parenting plan for pets. It is minimal and just limited to visitation, but I imagine that if someone wanted the Court to order such a plan, it would do so. Whether that could actually be enforced is another question, though.

Here are some other thoughts from the dog lovers around my office on this issue.

"doggies are a part of your family. in fact, they say the bond b/t man and dog can be stronger than b/t human beings. dogs have unconditional love and are always excited to see you. the grief over losing a dog can be just as difficult if not worse as losing a family or friend. if your dog is an important part of your life it may be something to think about when divorcing."

- Jennifer C.