Two years after you got married, your spouse bought a dog. It was a Christmas gift for both of you, a pet you had always dreamed of owning.
Over the years, it became clear that your relationship with the dog grew stronger than your spouse’s. You walked him, cared for him, took him to the vet and let him sleep on your side of the bed.
After you had the dog for about five years, you and your spouse decided to get divorced. With seven years of marriage in the books, you drifted apart. You both wanted something new. You kept craving a fresh start.
Now, though, you’re wondering what will happen with the dog. Who gets to keep a pet as you split up your assets?
The first thing you should know is that pets typically count as legal property in the United States. A dog is something you purchased and now own. The same thing is true for your new flatscreen TV or the car in the driveway.
This sounds fairly clear and obvious to those without pets, but dog owners often feel torn. They think of dogs more like children. They have a relationship with the animal. They love it in a way that they’ll never love a car or a television.
That’s what makes deciding what to do with your dog so tricky. Dividing property means taking something of equal value, but is anything “worth” the same amount as your loyal companion? You’re not just looking at the financial cost.
Some couples do opt for a “parenting plan” of sorts, setting up custody and sharing the dog. You can if you want; if you and your spouse stay on relatively good terms, this may even be easy. But do not expect the court to automatically look at it this way.
For instance, one couple had two pets. The court, trying to decide how to split up property, said that one person got one pet and the other person got the other one. It was a fast, easy solution. That can still be devastating to someone who thinks of the pets as “kids” who should stay together.
In another case, a woman took care of the dog and had a closer relationship with it, but the dog went to her husband in the divorce. He was the one who put up the money to buy it initially. By looking at the dog as property, the court decided he had more of a claim because it was property he bought.
These pet divorce cases can get tricky. Never make any assumptions and be sure you really know your legal rights.