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Unraveling the Who Gets the Dog Dilemma in Divorce

Posted by Bruce Galloway | Jan 11, 2024 | 0 Comments

In this article, we explore the dilemma of "Who Gets the Dog" in divorce, shedding light on how decisions are made and the common factors contributing to these disputes.


Divorce can be a tumultuous journey, and when furry family members are involved, emotions run even higher. Bruce Galloway Law understands the nuances of pet custody battles and strives to guide clients through these challenging situations.


How Do Courts Determine Who Gets the Dog?

Pet custody is not as straightforward as child custody. The legal system views pets as property, but many pet owners consider them cherished family members. Determining who gets the dog involves evaluating various factors, and in some cases, the outcome may surprise those involved.

who gets the dog


·        Primary Caregiver

Courts often consider the primary caregiver of the pet during the marriage. This is the person who provided the most care, including feeding, grooming, and veterinary care.


Keeping records of responsibilities and expenses related to the pet can support a claim to being the primary caregiver.


·        Pet-Related Agreements

Pre-nuptial or post-nuptial agreements may include clauses addressing pet custody. Having a clear agreement in place can simplify the process.


Courts may enforce these agreements if they are deemed fair and reasonable.


Best Interests of the Pet

Some jurisdictions are shifting toward considering the best interests of the pet when determining custody.  Missouri does not use that standard specifically.  However, any given court may be persuaded to assign a pet to the owner who will most likely look after it. 


Factors such as the pet's attachment to each spouse, living arrangements, and overall well-being may be taken into account.


Does Pet Custody Lean More Toward Men or Women?

Pet custody decisions are not inherently biased towards one gender. Instead, they depend on the specific circumstances of each case.


However, certain trends and stereotypes may influence perceptions:


·        Historical Trends

In the past, there might have been a perception that women were more likely to be awarded pet custody, reflecting traditional gender roles where women were seen as primary caregivers.


This trend is changing as courts increasingly focus on objective criteria rather than gender stereotypes.


·        Evolving Perspectives

Courts are becoming more progressive, recognizing that both men and women can be equally responsible and attached to their pets.

Decisions are increasingly based on evidence of each spouse's involvement in the pet's care rather than assumptions about gender roles.


·        Common Factors in Pet Custody Disputes

Pet custody battles can be emotionally charged, and certain factors commonly contribute to disputes between divorcing couples:


pet custody in divorce

 Emotional Attachment

Both spouses may share a deep emotional bond with the pet, leading to heightened emotions during the divorce proceedings.


Courts may consider each spouse's emotional connection and ability to provide a stable environment.


·        Change in Living Arrangements

If one spouse is relocating to a pet-unfriendly environment, it may impact the court's decision.


Demonstrating that a stable and pet-friendly living arrangement is in place can strengthen a case for custody.


·        Financial Responsibility

The spouse who assumes financial responsibility for the pet's needs may be viewed favorably by the court.


Providing evidence of consistent care and financial contributions can influence the outcome.


Mediation and Alternative Dispute Resolution

In recent years, there has been a growing emphasis on alternative dispute resolution methods, such as mediation, in pet custody cases.


Mediation allows couples to collaborate with a neutral third party to reach a mutually acceptable agreement. This approach empowers couples to tailor arrangements specific to their and their pet's needs.


Mediation is often less adversarial than traditional court proceedings, fostering a more amicable resolution.


Legal Precedents and Jurisdiction

Legal precedents in pet custody cases can vary significantly by jurisdiction. Some states may treat pets as marital property, while others consider their welfare more comprehensively.  Missouri treats them only as marital property. 


Understanding the legal landscape in a specific jurisdiction is crucial for building a strong case.


Bruce Galloway Law stays abreast of evolving legal precedents, ensuring clients receive informed guidance.


The Role of Pet Custody Evaluations

In contentious cases, courts may order a pet custody evaluation conducted by a qualified professional, such as a veterinarian or animal behaviorist.


This evaluation assesses each spouse's ability to meet the pet's needs and considers factors like home stability, available space, and overall pet-friendly environments.


This objective evaluation can influence court decisions, emphasizing the importance of presenting oneself as a responsible and caring pet owner.  In Missouri, a Court may decide against receiving testimony.  Whether this evidence may be used will likely be at the discretion of the particular court deciding the case.   


Educating Clients for Informed Decisions

keep the pet in divorce

Bruce Galloway Law places a premium on client education, ensuring divorcing individuals are well-informed about their rights and options regarding pet custody.


Providing clear guidance on how to present evidence of their role as primary caregivers, financial contributors, or other pertinent factors strengthens their case.


The question of "Who Gets the Dog" in a divorce is a multifaceted issue that demands careful consideration of legal, emotional, and practical aspects.


With Bruce Galloway Law, clients find a supportive partner committed to navigating this complex terrain with sensitivity and expertise, ultimately working toward a resolution that prioritizes the well-being of both parties and their beloved pets. Contact us today.

About the Author

Bruce Galloway

Bruce Galloway is a trial and appellate attorney who practices family law and personal injury on behalf of victims of family violence, including domestic violence, sexual abuse, and child abuse and neglect. He works on other family law cases such as divorce and custody matters. His heroes are gr...


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