Pets and Divorce: Who gets the Dog?


Cats, Dogs / Wednesday, February 22nd, 2017
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A divorce or a separation from a long term partner can be extremely traumatic. Disputes over possessions are common and these only serve to make the process even more stressful. But the situation can feel a whole lot worse if you face losing a treasured pet. If there is a battle for custody, who should get the dog?


UK Divorce Law and Pets

In the UK, the divorce law treats animals in much the same way as possessions. This means that their welfare is not considered in the same way as for children. The law certainly does not reflect the status of most pets in their owners’ lives. Pets tend to be much-loved members of the family and their long-term happiness and wellbeing should surely be the priority in any decisions regarding their future.

The Future of Pet Custody

Change could be around the corner and it is Alaska which is leading the way. The state has recently enacted a law which requires pets to be treated more like children. The courts will now have to take the animals’ welfare into consideration when deciding who will get custody of the pets. The default option, in the absence of a compelling reason for a pet to reside with one party or the other, is joint custody.

Pets are an extremely important factor in many people’s lives and so can inspire bitter battles between couples who have separated. The warring factions may have fallen out of love with each other but not with their animals. The thought of leaving a pet behind can be extremely upsetting and so couples will fight to the bitter end to keep their furry or feathered friends.

Outdated Approach

The UK divorce law does see rather outdated, especially when you consider that animals do have significant rights in the UK. But changing the divorce law will be difficult as it must be decided exactly how far any new legislation should go. One issue would certainly be which animals should enjoy enhanced rights. Would it be correct to extend the same rights to a goldfish as to a dog? How do you establish the best interests of a gerbil?

Legislation which clarifies the situation could prevent protracted custody battles which are not in the best interests of the couples or their pets. Indeed, some battles over animals have been fought for so long that the pet has died before a resolution has been found!

Handle with Care

Any disputes should be handled with great sensitivity as the custody of pets can be the source of enormous emotional distress. The emotional investment of pet owners in their animals must not be taken lightly, especially at a time when they may be in a vulnerable state anyway. Many people rely on their pets for emotional support and consider them to be their best friends and this makes the situation during a divorce even more delicate than it might otherwise have been.

A couple may both love their pet but that doesn’t mean that they could both offer it an equally good home. The courts need to be fair to the couple but must also take the animal’s needs into account. Improved legislation would help lawyers and judges to reach the right decisions for both the animals and the people involved in a divorce.

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