April 11, 2020

Divorce and Your Dog

When a marriage breaks down, the family dog doesn’t take sides.  As a dog lover I know the attachment that can develop between the family dog and each spouse.  Where the marriage is ending, often both spouses would like custody or visitation rights to maintain the pre-divorce relationship.  Alas, in Connecticut there is no such thing as dog custody.  The law treats the family dog like the family residence, cars or any other items of personal property where ownership of property is given to one spouse or the other to achieve an equitable distribution.  The emotional dimension of pet ownership need not be considered.  

But don’t give up hope.  Judges are human and, whether a dog owner or not, a judge can appreciate the emotional aspect of a property order.  If you can’t reach an agreement and a judge must decide, here are some things you can do to make the case to have the dog, cat, bird or other pet, awarded to you.

  • Who is the “official” owner? – whose name is on the adoption papers, AKC registration, town license or microchip records.
  • What evidence is there of past commitment to the care of the dog?  Who has had primary responsibility for veterinary care, grooming, training classes, walks (in rain, snow and summer heat), and for food, meds and toys?
  • Will you have an appropriate place to keep the dog and the time to devote to its care?

Things are changing.  Other states have recently passed divorce laws that recognize the special relationship with a dog and provide for custody and visitation.  Connecticut now allows judges to issue restraining orders to protect pets.  Many judges are amenable to ordering time and expense sharing arrangements voluntarily agreed to by divorcing spouses.

No doubt who gets the dog can be intensely emotional, often resulting in high divorce conflict and expense.  But you are better off proceeding calmly and rationally.  Obviously, an experienced attorney can help you keep the dog issue in perspective and if necessary, analyze and present relevant facts to the court in the most persuasive way.

This article first appeared in the April 9, 2020 edition of The Cheshire Citizen.

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