I’m a dog lover. I have two dogs named Simba and Sierra. They are very special to me, and I can’t imagine my life without them. That’s why it’s heartbreaking to me when divorcing clients ask me this question: Who gets the dog in a divorce?
The answer to the question is complicated because like anything else in divorce, it depends on the situation, and on many, many factors. Who gets the dog in a divorce depends on things that include: which partner wants the dog, work situations, children, parents’ travel schedules, financial responsibilities, when the dog joined your family, did anyone make payments for the dog and whether those payments came from marital or non-marital sources, and at which house the dog thrives.
Until about eight years ago, a dog (or any pet) was considered “property” in a divorce in Illinois. Just like furniture, or a boat, or a home, a judge could/would rule on who got the dog. Thankfully, the law changed and now, a judge considers a dog in the same way similar to children. A judge can rule on custody of a dog, who financially must support the dog, and more. The judge is also supposed to look out for what is in the best interest of the dog, or any other pet.
What I see in litigation when it comes to who gets the dog is that every situation is unique. I’ve seen judges award custody of the dog to one spouse, and I’ve seen the judge order a custody arrangement in which the dog goes wherever the children are for that night, or a week, or a vacation.
If you are truly worried about getting the dog in a divorce, the best advice I can give you is to go through mediation and/or the collaborative divorce process. Like every other issue in a divorce—finances, the house, parenting time, maintenance, child support and more, what happens to the dog is part of the negotiations. In other words, instead of a judge deciding who gets the dog in a divorce, you and your spouse discuss it in a collaborative team meeting or with the help of a mediator, and ultimately agree on a decision, which in my experience very often favors what’s best for not just the dog, but the kids.
Who gets the dog in a divorce if the couple doesn’t have kids?
This can be a more complicated situation with more emotions, since giving up the dog can mean never seeing the dog again. If a couple does not have children, they often look for finality in a divorce. That often means dividing assets and making financial decisions in such a way as to minimize or eliminate the need to interact in the future. That often means agreeing that one spouse will solely care for the dog. But that is not the case in every case.
I have also worked with couples who have agreed to a visitation schedule similar to one would create for children, in order to maintain a relationship with the dog. Yes, that means continuing contact for the couple post-divorce, but some couples make these decisions recognizing that it is important to them to remain present in their furry companion’s life.
Here are 5 tips for those who are worried about keeping the dog in the divorce:
1. Think about why you really want the dog.
Are you trying to get custody of the dog because you are vengeful or angry or bitter at your ex and you want to punish him or her? Or do you really want the dog for your own reasons? I once had a case where an ex was so angry with his spouse that he had the dog put to sleep just to hurt her. It still makes me sick to think about it. I’m not saying that will happen to you, but I shared that story because people can get so infuriated in divorce that they could go to the extremes.
I know it’s not easy to do, but if your kids are spending a lot more time at your ex’s house, and if they want the dog there, isn’t it better to ease some of their pain by allowing them to have their dog with them? The kids are facing so much stress, change and uncertainty, and who better to help soothe their anxiety than their dog? This is a time to truly practice selflessness, as difficult as that might be.
3. Think about the dog’s best interest.
Where is the dog most comfortable? Who will be able to spend the most time with the dog? Who takes the dog out more often? Who makes sure the dog is fed? Who is the primary person with whom the dog bonded? It’s not easy, I understand, but sometimes parting with the dog is the right thing to do for the dog. In other words, this is the time to be your dog’s best friend.
4. Think about practicality.
Do you travel for your job and because of that will you need to hire dog sitters every week or two? Is keeping the dog going to be stressful on your budget? These and other factors should weigh in when considering whether or not keeping the dog will work for you, or if shared custody might be better.
5. Use Collaborative Divorce Process or Mediate your divorce.
This way, YOU are making the decisions, not the judge. And, keep in mind that if you can’t agree on what to do about the dog, you are going to have to go to litigation, anyhow! So, isn’t it worth trying to work it out in collaborative process or mediation?
In closing, divorce is so complicated as it is, and adding a dog into the mix can make it even more stressful. Shared custody of a dog is such a wonderful solution if you and your ex are able to come to an agreement to do that. It might be hard at first, but both spouses still get to see and spend time with your furry friend. The bottom line is, with good decision making and the right priorities, everyone—you, your ex, your children and your dog can end up happy and content.
Anna P. Krolikowska, an attorney in the Northbrook law firm of Anna P. Krolikowska P.C, focuses her practice in the area of family law. Anna realizes that importance and the impact family law matters have not only on her clients, but also on their families. From divorce and child custody to any judgment modifications, Anna considers the unique circumstances of each case to develop a course of action designed specifically to address each client’s unique needs.
As a litigator, trained mediator, and a collaborative professional, Anna is able to offer to her clients diverse, and creative approaches to resolving marital disputes.
Anna realizes that family law matters are very difficult for all individuals involved. She strives to treat each client with respect at all times and to provide each client with attention and time they require. She works diligently to maintain open lines of communication, and provide creative options to resolving her clients’ concerns.
In addition to her practice, Anna is President of the Illinois State Bar Association which oversees the operations and management of ISBA, a state-wide voluntary association of more than 30,000 attorneys who strive to educate and serve the public, and improve the practice of law. She is a 2019 Honoree of the “40 Under Forty” award. The award honors 40 attorneys each year. In June 2021 she became the President of the ISBA, making her the 5th female president since its founding in 1877.
To learn more about Anna and her services, visit her website, or call: (847) 715-9328