Who Gets the Dog? Pet Custody Battles on the Rise

New Trend in Divorce Litigation

Who Gets (3)


Pets are Family -Furkids

According to the ASPCA and APPA, there are now 85+million cats and 77+ million dogs in the US, more than children apparently. Many people consider pets, especially dogs and cats, family. They travel with them, buy them birthday gifts, dress them and let them sleep on their beds. Dogs (and other pets) can provide companionship and health and wellness benefits to many.

We have been exploring dating and romance with dogs, and moving in with step-sibling dogs in our Award-Nominated Comedy Series Backseat Barkers and our Romantic Comedy Pippy Love. In both cases, young couples actually meet at the dog park like many couples today. There is a trust and connection between animal lovers.


When a relationship or marriage ends, the back and forth compromises of dividing up property and assets can be complex. Everyone knows that custody of the children can be the most stressful and emotional legal battle of them all. Today it seems couples are spending big money and effort on keeping their “fur children” as well. Animal custody battles can be pursued in regular civil trial court or through the use of a mediator. If the custody dispute arises during a divorce, the fight can be part of the divorce proceedings.

Pets used to fall under a possessions category, like a house or a car and possession is still an important factor. This means that monetary value could be assigned to them and paid by one client to another. However, anyone who owns a dog knows that pets are not mere belongings but committed friends, family members, and companions. For many, a simple cash equivalent is impossible to ascribe to a such a positive element in their lives. This changing attitude toward companion animals is reflected in an increased number of custody battles and in the willingness of judges and mediators to consider the welfare or best interests of the pet when determining which party should get custody.

The court may want to consider which party looked after the animal’s basic daily needs and legal requirements (food, shelter, physical care, exercise, grooming, flea control, license, vaccinations, microchip); who takes the animal to the vet; who provides for socialization (in the case of dogs); and who has the greatest ability to financially support the animal.

Pet custody cases can be entirely different in situations involving domestic abuse. Victims of domestic violence often refuse to leave the abuse situation because they do not want the family pet left with the abuser, who might harm the pet. Several states including California and Illinois passed legislation to protect animals in such domestic violence situations.

Pet Prenup? Sharing the Custody

With many couples having children later in their relationship, pets are often a first stepping stone towards parenthood. On average, a marriage that ends in divorce will have lasted 8 years, however, dogs live 10-13 years. For many pet owners, dividing up time with their beloved pets is the only way to reach an agreement on pet custody. Just like their human children, couples may choose to have the pets every other week, or even every other day. Care and vet bills can be divided up as well. A recent divorce case involved alimony for a pampered pooch! Nothing is too much for an animal lover.

However, judges may also take into consideration what is best for the pet. An elderly cat or dog may not do well with switching houses each week or weekend.



Celebrities With Dog Custody Battles

Most recently, Amber Heard and Johnny Depp have been talking to their lawyers about custody of their two Yorkies, Boo and Pistol.  While Heard would like to keep Pistol, Depp wants full custody of both of them. The dogs became infamous when they were held by the Australian government when the couple attempted to bring them into the country.

Kate Moss was also involved in a pet custody battle during her split from Jamie Hince. Kate fell head over heels for Jamie’s dog, Archie, and felt that she had to continue being a part of the dog’s life.

Kristen Stewart filed to have complete custody of her and Robert Pattinson’s pups after he left them with friends while shooting a movie.

Hugh Hefner reportedly gave Crystal Harris a diamond ring and a Bentley during one of their splits, just so he could keep their puppy.

 ALDF Legal Primer

We are not legal experts and nothing in this post should be construed as advice. If you are in a custody battle, please see a lawyer. However, we found this video interesting.


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  • It’s important to protect yourself in case of divorce… of course, the only people who win are the lawyers, however.

  • Robbi 1 year ago

    This would be very scary to think about but I can’t imagine having to give up any of my pets, but I guess it is a fact of life that people will need to think about. Eye opening topic.

  • Kelly 1 year ago

    Separation is stressful and difficult enough for couples, but emotions run high when children and yes, pets are involved.

  • What great information! It can be devastating for kids–but at least you can explain to them what’s happening. For pets, oh my doG how sad.

  • This situation makes the hair stand up on my arms. 🙁 I can’t imagine, ut I’m glad there are now laws to protect when abuse is involved. People can be so nasty in divorces over CHILDREN (I know, my parents are divorced), so I can imagine it gets pretty ugly with pets.

  • This is the scariest thing! I think they may have to kill me to get me separated from any of my babies. But, in reality, I know this happens and it is a sad situation for both the pets and the pet parents 🙁

  • Divorce is difficult for everyone. Especially kids, and pets. I am horrified to hear stories of people that take their (beloved) pets to the vet to be PTS because of a divorce. I would definitely be wanting full custody of the whole pack. Because, of course, I adore them, and I would not want them to be split up. In a time of change they would most likely be a comfort to each other. Heartbreaking situation.

  • I’ve heard of couples having shared custody of a pet after they split up. I’m glad the courts are starting to take the pet’s welfare into consideration more and more.

  • Before we got Mr. N, we had a discussion who would keep the dog if we ever split. I’m keeping him by the way!

  • When I went through a divorce after 21 years of marriage, there was the discussion of who would get our 19 year old cat, Muff. I loved Muff (she was my first cat), but she’d been recently diagnosed with CRF and I thought that if I had to lose both of them (my husband and my cat) that I rather it happen at the same time. Twenty years later, I’m not so sure I’d do it the same way again.

  • I’ve also heard of shared custody with some divorce cases where folks have weekend visitation rights. It sounds so messy and I cannot imagine. My husband would be so sad if I lived with all three dogs but I couldn’t part with any of them and I know he’d have them remain with me fill time – it’s so horrible to think about I cannot wrap my mind around it!

  • I wish this was the 1st time I’d heard of this but I saw it for the 1st time 10 years ago with friends in Florida who were sharing joint custody (not through the legal system) of their two dogs.

  • In a weird way, it makes me glad that people are fighting for custody of their dogs. I think it wasn’t that long ago when pets were commonly turned into a shelter due to a divorce. I see it as a good change. I do feel sorry for a person who doesn’t get visitation rights or shared custody for a dog (or any pet) that they love.

  • In many instances, pets are the new kids these days, so it can be a sticky situation! It’s definitely something to think about and plan for, just as you would human kids. I do think pets should be considered something more than property by the law, I hope to see that change soon.
    Love & Biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

  • One of my good friends adopted two deaf Great Danes with her boyfriend. They split up a few years ago, but have maintained a good relationship and joint custody of the dogs. The dogs live with my friend, but her ex comes over and walks and feeds them. They also share the veterinary expenses of which there are many. They are now both with other people, but still co-parent the dogs.

  • Gosh, I would truly break down if I had to give up one of my dogs 🙁