Imagine this: You and your partner have been together for ten years. During this time, you get a dog together, and this dog is (for all intents and purposes) your baby. You take him with you to the store (obeying any posted signs regarding pets in stores, of course), you let him sleep in your bed, you buy him cute little clothes.
Your happy little family is complete, just the two of you and your fur-baby (or fur-babies) and you couldn’t be happier. Then one day, due to unforeseen circumstances, you and your partner break up. You both love the dog equally, and it’s not his fault that you two can’t work it out.
So… Who gets to keep the dog?
Believe it or not, pet custody battles are a real thing, and they’re becoming more common – with as many as 1/5 of separating couples claiming that the custody regarding the pet is “as stressful as who gets the children”. As far as the law is concerned, pets are property, despite the common feeling that they are a part of the family.
Depending on your location, the specific laws regarding your rights may vary, although generally, it’s best if you can keep the matter out of the courts. However, particularly in relationships where no human life was created as a result, both parties often feel that the family pet is their child, and therefore neither wants to give him up.
Due to the way that the law is typically defined, if you can prove ownership of the animal (for example, a receipt stating that you were the one who paid for him or signed the original adoption papers), you will have a stronger case.
However, if your partner was the one who originally purchased the dog, or it was a mutual decision (or if no such receipt is available), you may still be able to claim “primary responsibility”. In this scenario, you will need other receipts: for veterinary care, for grooming, for food, and for toys.
This “primary caregiver” status can also be confirmed by neighbours or other impartial parties who may have seen that you were the one who typically cared for the dog – walking, interacting, and otherwise tending to the animal’s needs.
Keep in mind that your impartial parties may not feel the same way about pet ownership as you do, and might not be willing to testify as a witness to you. This can be a frustrating situation, as we often are unable to understand how some people can view a pet as just an animal while we treat them as if they were our own child.
Despite their legal standing as property, the drastic increase in these pet custody cases has led many attorneys to begin implementing an amicus curiae brief.
This process seeks to represent the best interest of the animal (the party the animal has a stronger bond with, who is more able to financially care for the animal, etc.).
However, not all attorneys are willing to do this, and you will need to check before seeking this type of counsel.