When Couples Split, Who Gets the Pets?

October 06, 2008 08:56 AM
by Sarah Amandolare
More couples that have broken up are finding themselves splitting custody of pets, adding a new dimension to modern relationships and divorce.

The Pet Custody Lowdown

In Portland, Ore., a 30-something couple is experiencing a repercussion of pet ownership that has grown increasingly common over the past decade: a custody battle.

Sara Vreed and her ex-boyfriend faced the difficult question of who would take their dog, 5-year-old Shetland sheepdog Ivo, after their relationship ended. According to CNN, “pet custody disputes in divorce are a growing area of the law,” prompting some relationship experts and lawyers to encourage couples with pets to create a custody agreement in writing ahead of time.

The purchaser of the pet or payer of the adoption fee is technically considered the rightful owner. A receipt or adoption record is “the best evidence” of ownership, but complications do arise, such as what to do when one person moves to another state.

But how is a custody decision reached? Animal behavior specialist Dr. Amy Marder told the Boston Globe last year that she evaluates the interaction between a pet and its two caregivers for “at least an hour and a half,” asking multiple questions regarding who spends more time with the pet, feeds it, plays with it, etc. An animal’s temperament and upbringing are also considered. Ultimately, Marder decides based on which person has a stronger connection or bond with the pet, and which partner she thinks will provide higher quality care.

Sometimes, joint custody is suggested. “Some animals think it’s terrific to go live in two homes,” she says. “Others have separation anxiety and splitting time would only make it worse.”

For example, one New York couple whose relationship ended in the late 1990s has managed to amicably share custody of their dog Luca. The couple “talk several times a day,” and have taken family trips, according to The New York Times. However, during the getaway, Luca showed signs of ambivalence, running from one bedroom to the other to see both owners.

Related Topics: Amicable pet sharing; animal law

Reference: Divorce


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