How Do We Resolve Our Pet Disputes during Separation or Divorce?

Have you thought about what would happen with your pets if you separate or divorce from your spouse? Who would keep the pet? How would he or she be cared for? Would the pet continue to be shared, or would one spouse keep the pet full time? Let’s shed some light on some ideas for dealing with pets in the context of separation or divorce of their owners.

Check out our Interview Series video with Debra Vey Voda-Hamilton, where we discuss mediation of pet disputes in greater detail.

Is there such a thing as custody of a pet?

There is no such thing as custody of a pet like there is for children.

A pet is considered to be personal property in a separation or divorce, and is divided in accordance with the rules of property division – the same way that a bank account, a house, or a toaster would be divided.

It’s a very difficult way to look at how a living being, who’s a loving member of your family, would be treated, but that’s how the law treats pets in the context of a divorce.

How would a court deal with the dispute over pet custody?

Just like resolution of any property dispute, the question is who’s going to keep the asset.  In this case, the asset is the pet and the question is who will be the owner going forward.

It’s not about sharing the pet – it’s about ownership for the court.

Now, how does this ownership get determined?  There’s lots of factors that can get looked at, but here’s a few examples:

  • Who’s name is on the receipt for the purchase of the pet?
  • Is there evidence that the pet was gifted to one of the spouses?
  • Who’s name is at the vet’s office?
  • Who generally takes care of the pet?

This list is non-exhaustive, but it gives you a flavour.

What other negotiation options are available if pet owners want to stay out of court?

We’ve talked in other blogs about negotiation process options like Mediation, Collaborative Divorce, Do-It-Yourself, and Divorce Court.  These would be the same negotiation options that you have for resolving pet disputes.

If you’re getting a divorce professional involved, mediation or the Collaborative Divorce process would be the options which give you the professional assistance you may want, while being involved in generating options and arriving at mutually acceptable resolution.

One of the goals of mediation and Collaborative Divorce is to generate options which maintains relationships, in this case both parties’ relationship with their beloved pet – rather than choosing a winner and a loser.

There are occasions where separating spouses will refer the isolated issue of a pet dispute to me as a mediator, and that often works out very well for families.

Even without separation or divorce looming, what should spouses consider in their pet ownership?

Most people when they get married or start living together don’t plan for their separation or divorce by way of a formalized written agreement.

Same goes for pets – when people who are living together, married or not, get a pet, they don’t typically plan for what would happen in the event of their separation.

Why not write down your intention when the pet is purchased as to what would happen in the event of a separation or divorce.

  • Would you continue to share the pet or not?
  • Will major decisions be shared? There will be things like surgeries, health care, dental care, nutrition, discipline?  Yes, even discipline.
  • Would there be a pet time sharing schedule?
  • What about the pet finances? Vet bills, food, boarding, training, and other expenses.

It sounds very much like resolving parenting-type issues because we’re talking about a living, breathing, pet who is part of the family, and who neither party would want to be treated as property.  Figuring these issues in advance can avoid disputes later.

Check out our Interview Series video with Debra Vey Voda-Hamilton, where we discuss mediation of pet disputes in greater detail.



Leave a Reply