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Family pet welfare should be a major concern when couples split but all too often pets become a divorce court custody battle. Sensible solutions by a dog "judge", E. Katie Gammill



E. Katie Gammill Exhibition Editor / February 2011


The bloom is off the rose! Divorce court looms. Since you have no children, neither of you have any intentions of giving up Fido or Fluffy. Add issues such as division of property, possessions, alimony, and you’re headed for a major custody battle.


How does one place value on a dog/cat that has played an intricate part of both your lives? The loss of a pet can be physically, mentally, and emotionally devastating.

Resentment rears its ugly head when one or the other partner wants full custody and splitting custody of the family pet(s) isn’t practical. What if the other party give the dog/cat away to someone else without permission? Although it may satisfy a need for revenge, it does your pet little good and causes the fur to fly!

Looking at this logically, a document prepared by your lawyer specifying agreements between the two of you might be in order. Here are some basic suggestions but other paragraphs may be added that will be legally binding. In this document, as with children, you list all the specific facts regarding your separation.

  1. Financial responsibility. Document who has responsibility for food, vet bills, boarding, grooming, and burial expenses.

  2. If your dog or cat is a valuable part of a breeding program, will the stud services be split? If your pet is valuable, who is responsible for ensuing offspring and who receives monetary disposition from offspring?

  3. If one partner cannot give reasonable care for the dog/cat any longer, dies, or remarries, list the person who will assume custody of the animal. If your current housing situation does not allow a dog or cat, both must approve who is to receive ownership of the pet.

  4. Will the dog or cat be spayed or neutered IF it is a valuable show animal?

  5. List the breed and a description, including micro chip or tattoo identification, name of the pet(s) and photos can be attached to the file.

  6. The other partner in this issue must give permission if the pet is to be spayed, neutered, given away, or euthanized.

  7. Who keeps the pet during vacations? Will the pet be boarded and who is responsible for the cost?WHO GETS CUSTODY OF THE PET? by E. KATIE GAMMILL

  8. Set up a visitation schedule. Determine if your dog can be taken to dog parks or for walks. Is your cat allowed outside or is it an inside cat?

Often, pets get lost in the shuffle of separation. Pets, like people, have anxieties. They suffer from loss of familiar surroundings. This may cause bad behavior. Dogs have been known to die grieving a master. Some people leave provisions for their beloved pets in their wills. Your cat might retaliate by marking or urinating on pillows and other items to establish hierarchy of its new domain. WHY? Because it’s a CAT!

Animals may stray or get lost when relocated, so consider your pet’s welfare. Make sure it is in comfortable, safe surroundings. Don’t be surprised when new issues surface.

  1. If you lose your dog or cat, who do you contact?

  2. If your dog or cat scratches or bites someone, who is responsible?

  3. If your pet is taken to a humane shelter, what is required to get it back and who should you contact?

  4. If your pet strays, how can you legally prove ownership and what is required to do so? (Reason for micro shipping or tattooing).

  5. If your pet is lonely and barks or yowls all day and neighbors take legal steps against you, what is the solution?

  6. Does your lease include pets and if there’s an extra deposit, who pays?

  7. Do you know the leash or fence regulations within your new area?

  8. Will your insurance company cover your breed of dog?

  9. Who pays for pet insurance (or vet bills)?

Available obedience schools can give your dog confidence. This will assist in bonding, adjusting, socializing, and controlling your dog’s adverse actions due to change. Teach him/her to fetch and retrieve. Keep your dog busy. Commands are important. Humane equipment should be used during training and if severe tactics are present, find another obedience instructor. As for cats, they are independent and you are on your own.

Don’t let your pet be an “after thought”. If pet issues are addressed during the divorce proceedings, everyone will have a clearer understanding of their expectations and responsibilities and your pet wins! You both want what’s best and a little calm, rational discussion will insure less stress for you both and a much happier dog or cat in the long run.


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