Many people who divorce find it extremely difficult to adjust to a lifestyle in which everything has changed. Both halves of the couple usually experience a greatly reduced level of emotional and financial stability. And as if that wasn’t enough, discussions over child custody and the division of material possessions creates yet another source of conflict between the two parties.
One of the most contentious parts of deciding who keeps what comes up when deciding custody of pets. As with negotiations over child custody it’s common for each party to feel that they are the only one who is qualified to provide suitable care; that the other does not have the pet’s best interests at heart; that each party has contributed more to the welfare of the pet in the past; and so on.
According to a recent survey by the pet welfare charity Dogs Trust, a fifth of divorcing couples find that making a decision over custody of the dog is as stressful as deciding on custody of a child.
An interesting point to note is that coming to an agreement on who cares for a dog is not done in the same way as deciding who cares for a child.
While the welfare of a child will be taken into account, and the decision made on the basis of what is considered best for the child, the same considerations are not made for a pet. When finalising divorce agreements, pets are considered property, much like a car or a piece of furniture.
This means the courts are unlikely to be swayed by the argument that one party is less suited to caring for the dog by themselves. Neither are they compelled to take into account that a pet will find it less stressful to live where they have always lived rather than move somewhere new.
A court may favour the arguments of neither party’s divorce solicitors, and attempt to sidestep the issue by ordering that the pet alternate between two homes on a monthly basis – which is likely to be almost as stressful for an animal that cannot understand what is happening or why.
In the long term, it may be that the solution could lie in drawing up a new law stating that animals are to be considered as important as children in divorce proceedings – or at least, as more important than sofas and kitchen appliances.
On an individual basis however, it may be best to ensure through pre-nuptial agreements who should have the right to custody of a pet.