Who gets the dog in a divorce?

Dear Liz,
My husband and I are getting a divorce and we both want to keep our beloved dog. What are the rules about deciding who gets to keep the family pet?
– Dogs Are WOMENS Best Friend Too

Dear Dogs Are WOMENS Best Friends Too,

Oy…this is a tough one. Dogs are definitely not children and don’t have the same custody issues that kids would have, although I do hear the term “furbaby” thrown around an awful lot. But dogs – and pets in general – do hold a special place in the hearts of families and so it is easy to understand that during a divorce having to give up a loved pet can feel scary and maddening. Since I’m no divorce expert, I’m going to hand this one over to my pal Amy who has the lowdown on furbabies.

Here is what Amy had to say:

I have read of a case where a woman was sentenced to jail for refusing to obey several court orders requiring that she turn over the couple’s cats to her former husband who had been awarded them. I have read of cases where spouses have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars fighting over the dog.  In Texas, a husband dognapped the couple’s canine.  As you may expect, custody of the dog was then awarded to the wife once the dog was returned.

The question of who gets to keep the pets arises more often than you think.  Maine has no law specific to pet custody.

In Maine, your dog (or any pet) is property and the court can only award the pet to one party over the other.  The courts in Maine cannot award shared custody or order visitation.  The court will consider the same factors as in dividing the sofa or car.  The court may also consider the relationship between the pets and any children of the marriage and whether the pets should stay with the children, as might be in the children’s best interest. However, as pets are becoming more and more parts of our lives, some courts throughout the country have become willing to consider the best interests of the pet in determining custody.  You may want to discuss with your lawyer creative arguments to make to the judge regarding custody of the dog.

The judge does not know your pet.  In my opinion, ownership of the dog is one of those issues that are best negotiated between the spouses.  Such a negotiated agreement can include visitation rights or a shared living arrangement. In addition, pets may have an opinion and I hope you will consider that.

Good luck!

~ Liz

If you have a question for Dear Liz and her team of experts just drop us an email at dearliz@bangordailynews.com.