Our take on which partner should get the dog after separating from our legal perspective.

When getting a divorce, one of the biggest questions is who gets the dog. Neither party wants to let their adorable, if slightly slobbery, dog go, but unfortunately, dogs are not property that you can split in half. So, who gets “paw-session”?

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, 80% of pet owners consider their furry little critters family, so the thought of losing your pet can be difficult. However, in Colorado courts, dogs are considered property, and Courts decide pet ownership based on property laws and not child custody laws. Because of this, determining who gets the pet can be tricky.

Sometimes, both parties have already decided in the prenuptial or postnuptial agreement who would get the pet in the case of separation, but this is not often the case. The decision about who gets the pet can vary by judge because there is no Colorado law about pet ownership in divorces. Therefore, it is helpful to try to discuss and come to an agreement with the other party first.

Below are some factors that judges consider in deciding who gets the pet in a divorce:

  • Did you buy or adopt the pet before or during the marriage? If the pet was owned by one party before the marriage, or even bought while the two were dating, the court may not have jurisdiction over who gets the pet because in most cases it will belong to the person who bought it. The person who owned the pet prior to the marriage can argue that the pet is separate property.

  • Who took primary care of the pet? This relates to who took the dog (or cat) to checkups, who fed it, who walked it the most? This information will help the judge decide which party will be the most capable caregiver.

  • Where will both parties be living after the divorce? One might move to a small, cramped apartment whereas the other might have a house with a backyard. The health and happiness of the pet will certainly be a prerogative for everyone involved and living conditions can play a big part.

  • Whose lifestyle is best suited to caring for the pet? Does one person have to be away at work the whole day or travel frequently?

Of course, these are only considerations a judge will make if there is a dispute over the pet. If ownership can be settled outside of court with the help of your lawyer, this will may be more cost effective as well as lead to a better outcome. Remember, a judge may find that the other party or neither of you should have the pet. Parties can agree to split time spent together with their beloved pet and create a visitation schedule for themselves. This schedule can include dividing expenses for the pet and how decisions about important medical care will be handled. 

Our lawyers can help facilitate discussions between you and the other party to create an agreement between the two of you. Our experience lawyers can also help you evaluate your options and how to best advocate in Court if you wish to keep the pet.

As always, both parties should keep the best interests of their pet in mind and consult with a lawyer over what the best course of action is. Your dog or cat would very much appreciate that– we wouldn’t want them to have a “ruff” day and it’s the “leash” you can do.