I’m Taking The Dog! Pet Custody


There is bound to be some heartache and disappointment during the divorce process. Among the division of assets, property, and potential child custody disputes, another family member’s well-being is frequently overlooked – your beloved pet. The bonds we form with our pets are deep and full of unconditional love. That’s why pet custody should be carefully considered during the divorce process.

Understanding Pet Custody

In most jurisdictions, pets are legally viewed as personal property. However, there has been a shifting trend in recent years. Take the landmark Supreme Court case of New York, Travis v. Murray (2013) where the courts acknowledged the emotional connection between a pet (in this case a dog named Joey) and its owners, prompting a “best for all concerned” standard for pet custody. Though not as deeply developed as child custody law, it signified an important legal recognition of our unique bond with pets.

Tips for a Pet Custody Battle

While the hope is always for a smooth and amicable divorce process, there may be moments that require a fight for what matters most. One such instance could be pet custody, where our love for our furry friends is put to the ultimate test. If you find yourself gearing up for a custody battle over your beloved pet, it’s important to approach the situation prepared. Consider these tips as you prepare for the journey ahead:

  1. Document Your Responsibilities: Maintain a record of who has been the primary caregiver. Which of you feeds, walks, and takes the pet to the vet most often? Providing evidence of your care can be beneficial in legal proceedings.
  2. Consider Your Pet’s Welfare: As much as you love your pet, it’s important to consider their well-being above all. If your new living situation isn’t ideal for your pet’s needs, it might be in their best interest to live with your ex-spouse.
  3. Work with a Mediator: Involving a neutral third party can help facilitate a more amicable resolution. This can help avoid a full-blown custody battle.

Coping with Losing Custody of Your Pet During Divorce

Experiencing the loss of pet custody in divorce can bring up similar emotions to the death of a pet. It’s a significant change, marking the end of your daily interactions and shared moments. Some tips to help you manage and move through this profound sense of loss include:

  1. Recognize Your Grief: Accept that it’s okay to feel a sense of loss and grief. It’s normal and valid. You are mourning the loss of a cherished relationship.
  2. Find Support: Lean on your friends and family for emotional support. Reach out to professionals or join support groups dealing with pet loss during a divorce. Speaking with others who understand your experience can offer a sense of comfort.
  3. Embrace the Good Times: Cherish the memories of the times you had with your pet. Keep photos or a memento to remind you of your bond. It’s a celebration of the love you shared, rather than a symbol of loss.
  4. Stay Connected (If Possible): Depending on your relationship with your ex-spouse, ask if it’s possible to get occasional updates or even visits with your pet. This can provide some closure and maintain a distant but loving connection.
  5. Self-Care: Invest in activities that promote healing and well-being. Physical activity, hobbies, or even considering fostering or adopting a new pet (when you’re ready) can bring comfort.

Remember, it’s important to honor your feelings and understand that everyone’s healing process is unique. The loss of pet custody is a significant event, and it’s okay to give yourself time and space to heal.

Shared Custody and Setting Boundaries

If you and your ex-spouse opt for shared custody, setting boundaries will be a crucial step in moving forward. If you struggle with setting boundaries, you may find these tips useful:

  1. Establish Clear Rules: Both you and your ex should agree on your pet’s care, including feeding times, medical care, and exercise routines.
  2. Create a Schedule: Clearly define when and how your pet will be exchanged. Stick to this routine to minimize confusion or conflict.
  3. Avoid Manipulation: Your pet should not be used as a tool for manipulation or rekindling the relationship. Respect your ex’s time with your pet and expect the same in return.
  4. Communicate Clearly: If any changes or concerns arise, communicate them honestly and respectfully. Open communication will prevent misunderstandings and potential disagreements.

The decision over pet custody can further add to the emotional turmoil a divorce can bring on. While it can be a unique and difficult situation to navigate, with the right knowledge and tools, you can come to the best decision for everyone involved – including your pet.

If you’re looking for further insight into the divorce process, check out these blogs:

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Essential Resources

If you’re facing legal/custody battles, a mental health crisis, an urgent medical issue, serious emotional problems, including suicidal thoughts, please seek help from the appropriate professionals near you.

Suicide hotline: 1-800-273-8255
Suicide Prevention Lifeline:
Crisis line: 1-800-356-5395
Crisis text line: Text “help” to 741741
The National Domestic Violence Hotline
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV)

Split.fyi Resources
Split.fyi Marital Life Inventory
Divorce Lifecycle Document
Divorce Process Overview


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