Divorce & The Family Pet

When I think about my childhood, a few things come to mind. I remember the smell of the kitchen when I was baking with my mom. I remember anxiously waiting by the door for my dad to get home from work. I very clearly remember the day my parents finally gave in- and we met our new puppy, Jessie. At only five pounds and six weeks old, Jessie (a cross between a Shih Tzu and a Yorkie), quickly became the fifth member of our family.

Divorce and the family pet

Training her was a burden and a collaborative learning experience for our entire family. Her affectionate cuddles and boundless energy kept the house busy, and she unknowingly wove her way into our hearts. The announcement of my parents divorce would rock not only my world, but Jessie’s too.

Family Pets

Family pets are so much more than animals- pets become members of their families and are valued as such. Pets are integrated into a family’s daily routine, and many children grow up alongside their furry companions. As humans do, pets become familiar with routines and habits. They learn, play, and grow under your roof, and they learn your specific patterns of behaviour.

During a divorce, the very fabric on which a family was built falls apart. In the chaos of separation agreements, court dates and relocation, families must cope with separation and changing routines. One growing concern of recently separated and divorcing couples continues to be: what about the pets?

Divorce and the family cat

Family Pets in The Eyes of The Court

Although our pets may feel like family members to us, the Courts don’t see pets in the same light. For custody purposes, the courts see pets as property, capable of human ownership and control. As with all physical assets, these cannot be divided or shared, rather acquired solely by one party. If parties cannot come to a decision on the allocation of property, a judge can make this decision while setting out the terms of the separation agreement.

The courts do, however, recognize that dogs have a stronger hold on their owners than a television, for example. Therefore, when deciding with which party a pet will reside, the court takes a few things into deep consideration.

  1. Which party takes care of the pets basic needs, such as shelter, food, exercise, and attention?

  2. Who takes the pet to a veterinarian?

  3. Who has the financial capability to comfortably support a pet?

In the case that you and your spouse are working collaboratively to set the terms of your divorce, you should take much of the same questions into consideration. If the pet has one primary owner between the two of you, this may be the best person for the pet to reside with. It is often recommended that if pets are closely bonded to the children of the family, that they relocate to the residence where the children will be spending the majority of their time. Pets are a source of comfort and continuity to children- and vice versa.

Divorce and the family dog

Once you have decided the residency of your family pet, and other important family choices, make sure to solidify them in a Separation Agreement. Thistoo makes the process simple and fast.

Pets and Divorce

Pets, as humans do, are faced with emotional and physical adjustment throughout the course of a divorce. Remember to pay close attention to the behaviour and health of your pet, to make sure their transition to a new family structure is a smooth one. Take time to deliberate and discuss the new living arrangement of your pet. Thoroughly considering who is best to take care of your pet will minimize instances of relocation, and allow the normalcy of their new arrangement to set in. If you have more than one pet, consider allowing them to live together. Their bond is unique and strong - this can create consistency in what is otherwise a time of  turbulence. Most importantly, continue to spend time with your pet. Playing, petting and walking with them reminds them that they are important to you. Routine veterinary check ins can also ensure that your pet is adjusting well to their new environment.

Pets are apart of the family