Since I’ve never owned a pet as an adult, I never really thought about the divorce question: “Who gets custody of the dog?” Until I had dinner the other night with my friend Tara, who told me an unbelievable story about how she got custody of her dog in her divorce.
Funny that Tara’s story came right before yesterday’s news broke out that Melanie Griffith and Antonio Bandaras (who are newly separated) are fighting over their dogs. I didn’t realize how common the issue is. I just read an article about how custody battles involving pets are up 30%, due to two things: the rise in pet ownership and Hollywood couples setting an example that it’s possible to share custody of a pet.
I learned a lot about the subject from Tara. Several years ago, when her daughter was around 10, she was given a dog by her step-dad, (who was Tara’s second husband at the time) as a birthday gift.
When the girl turned 13, her mom and the step-dad decided to get divorced and that’s where the dog custody story begins. The step-dad wanted custody! He wanted to take the gift he gave his step-daughter away! Now, HIS side of the story is probably that he grew close to the dog and was very attached.
In the meantime, the now ex refused to leave their home, so Tara and her daughter decided to move out. When Tara and her now ex went to see a judge, here was the dilemma. The dog was considered part of the home’s property (just like furniture or an appliance) so Tara, by law, was not allowed to take property out of the home without the consent of her now ex. However, all that said, the dog was a gift, meaning the daughter had a right to keep the gift. So, the judge ordered that they share custody of the dog for one year.
Tara laughed as she recalled going back and forth to take and pick up the dog every Saturday, along with his favorite toys. “It was a huge ordeal,” she said. “Dropping him off and picking him up was very emotional for everyone.”
A year later, the couple returned to the judge, who had to make a custody decision. The judge started asking questions, and inquired about the financial aspect of things, in other words, who spent money on the dog? Who took the dog to the vet? Who bought the dog supplies? When Tara produced multiple receipts on purchases and vet expenses, the judge awarded she and her daughter custody.
I don’t know what it would be like to lose my dog in a custody battle, (because I don’t own one) but I do know that if I lost my children, I couldn’t bear it. So, I do understand how difficult it would be for some people to leave their dog during a divorce.
My advice to divorcing couples is that if you have kids, consider including the dog as part of your custody arrangement, if possible. The kids would probably love it, and it might make traveling back and forth from mom’s to dad’s easier. Second benefit: neither person feels sad about the loss of a dog. Caution, however: make sure the expenses of the dog (especially the vet costs) are included in your settlement agreement.
I think if you are getting divorced and you don’t have kids, then sharing the dog makes even more sense. Seeing the dog on a regular basis might make the divorce a little less “ruff,” on everyone, including the dog!