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How to Decide Who Gets the Dog in a Breakup

a person in a suit smiling

For many, a relationship breakup can be one of the most painful experiences.

If the couple is living together, deciding who gets what can often lead to incredibly bitter fights. If a beloved pet is involved, those battles can be tortuous.

How should the decision of who keeps the dog or cat be made?

Social media

For starters don’t fight your battle over social media.

“When you post something online, you may as well consider it permanently out there for everyone to see,” says the Pennsylvania-based Thomas, Conrad & Conrad law offices.

Everything you post in what is a public forum after all can be found and possibly become part of a case against you.

Firing off angry statements about your one-time lover on Facebook or sending a tweet filled with negative comments about the ex to a friend can backfire. They can easily become addictive, potentially destructive ways to vent your anger.

Don’t let that happen.

The first step the law firm advises is to not fall into social media traps.

If you cancel your social media accounts, including Linkedin, Snapchat, or any blog you might have, you won’t be spending too much time scrolling social networks and friends’ feeds to see who is saying what about whom and questioning their motivation.

“You don’t want to be accused of lying or harassing your spouse on social media, which is entirely possible if someone reports you, even if it isn’t true,” the Thomas, Conrad & Conrad law firm says.

Also, protecting yourself from a potential defamation suit should be of utmost importance.

Legal issues

If you are not spending a lot of time venting on social media platforms, you will have more of it to consult Eric J. Conrad or another Thomas Conrad attorney or seek other legal advice to know exactly what your rights are.

Did you or the other party actually purchase the dog? That is likely the overriding question.

Pets are usually legally considered property.

Other things to be considered are who took care of the dog the most, whose name is on the pet insurance Australia for instance, or who registered it with a vet.

Over time the pet insurance and feeding costs will certainly have added up.

Who paid most of the bills?

A law that took effect in California in 2019 recognizes pets’ “unique nature.”

“The law allows people to petition for custody of a pet. It empowers judges to take into consideration the care of the pet when determining sole or joint ownership. Questions like ‘who walked the dog?’ and ‘who took the cat to vet appointments?’ are now permissible criteria for determining custody,” Huffpost reports.

If cites California family law attorney Deborah Marx saying much is still up to the judge’s discretion and that couples with pets “get very differing receptions from the judges depending on how judges feel about pets. Some are sympathetic and some are ‘why are you wasting my time?’”

You likely want to avoid courtroom drama over a pet considering the emotional toll that can take as evidenced by an episode of Judge Judy

Pet’s best interests

As with child custody cases, the feuding parties should put their own interest aside and consider the pet’s first.

Who has the most time for it? Who has or will have a larger property to give the dog space to roam?

Who is the business owner putting extra-long hours?

“The law is increasingly aligned with this,” writes attorney Ruth Lee Johnson in Psychology Today.

“If you really love your pet, you will have to seriously consider — with as little bias as possible — whether you or your ex will offer it the better home.”

In an ideal world, compromise over who keeps the pet would be reached. But the strong emotional attachment many people have to their pets means that might not always be possible.

In that case, do keep your dispute out of social media, consider the legal issues involved, and always consider the pet’s best interests.

You might have to say goodbye — for now — but you and the pet should eventually be better off.