Dealing With Pet Custody Battles
Try to not let things get too messy
I’m going to be talking pets, and what happens when couples break up. Divorce is painful and stressful for any couple, but made more complicated when custody of furry kids gets thrown into the mix.
This is a reader requested topic, and although my partner and I have been happily together for over a decade and parent five furry beasts together, this is a topic I have a little bit of experience around. When I was 18 I was living with an ex, my dog, his cats, and a dog and a cat that within the first two months of our nine-month relationship we adopted together. We didn’t think we were moving too quickly, that’s just how you live when you’re both precariously housed queer youth. My ex and I never talked about custody plans for the animals, and our breakup was made all the more dramatic by him taking off with my dogs for over 24 hours and hiding out at the house where the person he was cheating on me stayed. I was distraught, frantic, and realized I had very little recourse to legally get my dogs back. Thankfully, he was lazy, and got tired of taking care of them after a day and brought them home.
As queer folks, many of us have a lot of experience constructing our own families— pets become children, families exist without legal recognition. But in a politically changing world, where more and more couples are able to access legal relationship recognition, the politics of separation and “divorce” are shifting too. Unfortunately lesbians aren’t immune from the reality that a huge percentage of marriages in America end in divorce. Although for many of us our pets are our children, the law has historically viewed them as only property. Thankfully, in some jurisdictions that’s starting to change and judges are starting to make decisions based on the welfare of pets, and not simply dividing them up like they might a couch, or art collection.
If you find yourself in a pet custody battle with an ex-partner, legal experts at Animal Legal Defense Fund say you may find yourself in a position of needing to hire an attorney and then having to prove yourself as primary caregiver. Adoption records, vet records, proof of who took your dog to training classes will all be scrutinized, or even collecting witness statements from neighbors who witnessed you taking your dog to the park.
As with human children caught in the middle of separating parents, the best-case scenario is when the adults can act like adults, and work together for the best interests of the pets even if they are no longer romantically involved. If you and your ex are able to work together, developing a mutually agreeable custody plan, the likelihood is your pets will be much happier than if their living arrangements are left in the hands of the courts. Increasingly as a culture pets are treated like children, when their parents separate couples are working out shared custody arrangements. I know dogs that spend most of the week with one parent, and then every other weekend with their other and seem happy about the arrangement. Obviously no one gets into a relationship planning for its end, unless of course you have a prenuptial agreement—somewhere else pets are increasingly being included in, but unfortunately love doesn’t last forever, and the dogs and cats and ferrets and finches you love need humans to put the hurt and animosity about the failed relationship aside to focus on planning their future.