There is a growing realization among most people, including here in Missouri, that domestic pets are cherished family members. People readily find that each domestic animal has a distinct personality of its own, and the animal’s loyalty and unswerving affection toward its care keepers is reciprocated by its human counterparts. Stories abound of dogs who react valiantly to save their owners in emergencies, and dogs are recruited to calm and comfort the elderly and people who are hospitalized. It is no wonder, therefore, that the decision of who gets the family dog in divorce can raise nearly as much strife as a dispute over child custody or visitation.
Despite the increasing bond between humans and animals, only two states view domestic pets as anything other than property. This creates a degree of uncertainty when divorcing parties cannot decide on the disposition of their pets during a divorce. Where each party has a special bond with the animal, they often cannot agree to a satisfactory custodial arrangement.
It is actually slightly easier when there are minor children who are acclimated to the animals. In that event, custody of the dog may go to the primary custodial parent or the dog may travel with the children during their shared custody time with each parent. However, no such easy formulas are always available when the couple has no children and the dog itself has been elevated to the position of family child.
For those who have experienced a close bond with their pets, the dilemmas of a divorce battle with a dog as the central bone of contention is not so far-fetched. To some judges who do not get affectionate with domestic pets, the argument over custody of the dog is a dispute sent from another galaxy. The judge in that situation may curtly rule that the dog be sold, and the proceeds divided. That is why in Missouri and elsewhere, it is good advice for divorcing parties to enter an agreement about the family pets prior to appearing in court.