Divorce: Who Gets the Dog?

Couples going through a divorce often have trouble agreeing on who gets to walk away with what, and the family pet is no exception. In this day and age, different people have such different perceptions of what a dog is that the approach to dog custody can vary greatly from one family to another.

To some people, a dog is as precious as a child. They spend thousands of dollars on the animal, care for it tenderly and regard its feelings almost as much as they would regard a child’s feelings. To them, their dog is their baby.

To other folks, a dog is an object and no different than a piece of property like the sofa.

Let’s take a look at how couples approach the division of assets when it comes to the family dog.

Shared Custody of the Dog

Normally, determining custody of the dog isn’t something that people are willing to litigate; they prefer to work out the dog situation on their own. That said, Boulder County is a special place for dogs: in my previous post I touched on the fact that one cannot “own” a dog in Boulder, one is the “guardian” of a dog.

To clarify, this status is mostly symbolic and does not give our canine friends any additional rights.

However, the point is that in Boulder County, people generally have an intense emotional attachment to their dogs and want to give the animal a good quality of life, even after divorce. I have many cases where the parties deal with guardianship of a dog in a manner similar to how they might deal with parenting time with a child: they schedule joint parenting time. So, Father might have the dog Monday through Thursday, and Mother might take the dog Friday through Sunday, etc. In these cases the “parents” will usually split veterinary bills, as well.

I had one case where there was a “first right of refusal,” meaning, if one parent was going out of town, rather that boarding the dog or hiring a sitter, the other parent would have the first right of refusal to take the dog for the duration of the trip.

When there are multiple dogs, people are often unwilling to split them up. You’d think that if there were two dogs, the couple would each take a dog and move on, but often they feel strongly that the dogs need to stay together because it would be hurtful to separate them.

As I said before, most people are unwilling to deal with dog custody issues in Court and prefer to work it out amongst themselves. It can be painful to give up a beloved animal, but I’ve seen one party make the sacrifice and say, “You can have the dog.”

Of course, there are still people in the world who regard dogs in the same way they regard objects. I witnessed one heartbreaking case where a couple was trying to work out what to do with an older dog who had medical conditions. The wife wanted to keep the dog and share his hefty vet bills with the husband, but the husband said, “Just put the dog down.” In that case, she ended up keeping the dog and footing the vet bills herself.

Whatever your beliefs are about animals, if you’re going through a divorce, it’s important to get legal counsel before moving forward. Call us at 303-449-1873 to set up a free consultation.

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