Determining Who Keeps the Dog After a Divorce

Posted on: 17 January 2018


It might sound odd, even rather cold, and yet in the event of a divorce did you know that the family dog can be treated just like any other shared property to be divided? While of course your dog is a sentient being and its welfare is catered for under applicable legislation, your dog can seemingly have the same status as your living room furniture in a divorce. This can be problematic when two parties are arguing about who gets to keep the dog. There are a range of factors involved when deciding who gets to keep the dog. The interests of the dog is also paramount, and who will be able to provide the dog with the best possible life.

Ownership of the Dog

Considering that the dog is classed as property, who ends up keeping the dog can be determined in a number of ways.

  • Who originally paid for the dog, whether from a pet shop, a breeder, or a rescue centre?

  • In whose name is the dog registered with the local council?

  • If the dog is microchipped, in whose name is the microchip registered?

  • Who was the primary caregiver of the dog, as in was one person largely responsible for feeding it, walking it, and its overall wellbeing?

These are the questions that will be asked (and potentially argued) when it's formally decided who will keep the dog. The intended future plans of both parties can also play a role. It might be that the dog's quality of life will be affected if it was to remain with one of you. You or your former partner might move to a property that is unsuitable for the dog (reduced living space or the necessity to confine the dog for large portions of the day).

Shared Custody

While shared custody of the dog is generally not considered, there are instances where such an arrangement can be appropriate. A solicitor in the field of family law can help you to determine shared custody when children are involved, and this is the instance when shared custody of the dog might also be considered. If your children are to spend a certain number of days each week with each parent, it can be beneficial for the dog to go with them when they move between their respective parents' homes. If your children are the ones who spend the most time with the dog, the animal will benefit from spending its time with them even when they move from one place to the other. The presence of the dog can also be helpful in lending a sense of comfort and familiarity to your children in this difficult time. 

So while a primary owner of the dog will need to be determined, it's important to remember that a formal arrangement for shared custody can also be appropriate.