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Separation, Divorce and Dog Ownership The Importance of Keeping a Dog in the Lives of Both People After a Separation

Separation, Divorce and Dog Ownership   by Frankie Wallace   |Published 06-30-2020

Going through a divorce is never an easy process. Even if you and your ex-spouse are on good terms, it’s still a stressful situation and can be emotionally taxing. The stress from the process could be even worse if you and your former spouse shared a dog together. 

While dogs aren’t children, many people consider them to be a part of the family. So after a divorce, it can be difficult to decide who gets to keep the dog. If your divorce ends up in court, keep in mind that pets are considered property, rather than giving them the same humanistic rights as children. 

Two children are sitting near a dogSeparation, Divorce and Dog Ownership

Therefore, a judge won’t decide on a custody arrangement for your dog. If you can’t work things out with your former partner, you might benefit from working with a mediator. A mediator cannot make decisions for you, but they can help both you and your ex-spouse to reach an agreement that is beneficial to everyone including your four-legged friend.

So what can you do after a separation to keep your dog in both of your lives? What about what’s best for the dog itself? 

Separation, Divorce and Dog Ownership: Why It’s Important for You

Unfortunately, many divorces end with one person becoming the sole owner of the dog. In some cases, that might make sense. But in many cases, that’s not what’s best for the dog or for the people involved.

As we mentioned earlier, dogs can quickly become like a member of the family in many homes. Having to suddenly be ripped away from a family member, especially after a divorce, can make the experience even harder. 

Dogs are more than just furry companions. They can be a real source of comfort, and help to prevent isolation. If you’re going through a divorce when you’re older or a senior, social isolation can be a big problem that could create health issues including: 

  • Weakened immune system
  • High blood pressure
  • Cognitive decline
  • Increased risk of chronic illnesses

So having your dog remain in your life can be a big help when it comes to both your mental and physical health. 

Separation, Divorce and Dog Ownership:  When Children are Involved

If you have children in the home, making sure the dog stays in their lives is also important. Dogs can help with emotional healing in children, which is often necessary after witnessing their parents go through a divorce or having to deal with major life changes.

These are all factors to consider when you’re trying to do what’s best for everyone involved. No one wants to lose a member of their family after a divorce, so while it might feel difficult at the time to take your ex’s emotions and best interest to heart, it can make things easier on everyone.

Separation, Divorce and Dog Ownership:  Why It's Important for the Dog

It’s not just you, your children, or even your former spouse you need to consider after a divorce. Dogs are social creatures and pack animals. They get used to the family unit they belong to, and if one person suddenly leaves, it can cause problems for your canine companion, too. 

Studies have shown that up to 30% of dogs experience separation anxiety at some point in their lives. That can cause a variety of different behavioral issues, including: 

  • Excessive barking/howling
  • Pacing
  • Panting
  • Whining
  • Destructive behavior
  • Bathroom accidents

If you start to notice your dog’s behavior changing after a separation, they could be dealing with separation anxiety. Anxiety can be just as damaging to pets as it is to people, and a sudden change in the home can be a serious trigger.

In order to reduce the stress of the divorce itself and to lessen the risk of separation anxiety, trying to find ways to include both people in your dog’s life is certainly in the best interest of your pet. Even if you don’t live with your former spouse, some type of custody arrangement should be put in place for the dog’s benefit. 

How to Work Out a ‘Custody’ Plan for Your Dog

If you do consider your dog to be a member of the family, creating a flexible custody arrangement shouldn’t be out of the question. While a court might consider your pet to be a piece of property, they usually don’t feel that way to most families. 

So, how can you determine what to do with your dog after a divorce? Everyone’s ‘custody’ arrangement will be different, but there are some things to consider when you’re trying to create a plan that works for everyone: 

  • Who was the first owner of the dog, if it wasn’t purchased/adopted together?
  • Does one person have longer working hours or travel more often?
  • Is the dog more bonded with one person over another?

Like with your children, it’s important to put your dog first when you’re trying to work out a plan. It may not always be easy to swallow your pride or to let go of the time you want to spend with your dog. But, if your main concern is your pet’s wellbeing, it can take compromise and sacrifice to make that happen. Do what you can to work out an arrangement with your former spouse outside of the courtroom. The less tension involved, the easier the agreement will be on everyone involved, including your fur baby. 

Author Bio:  Separation, Divorce and Dog Custody

Frankie Wallace is a frequent contributor to Small Dog Place.  She is a freelance writer from Boise, ID. If her spirit animal could be anything, it would be a beagle--inquisitive, and always searching for food.

More Articles by Frankie Wallace

Small Dog Obesity: Your Dog Isn't Chunky--It's Obese

The Benefits and Challenges of Having Pets in the Workplace

How-to - Guide Your Senior Dog Into Aging with Ease

How A Dog Can Promote Healthy Living

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About Janice (author and voice behind this site)

Having lived with dogs and cats most of her life, Janice served as a veterinary technician for ten years in Maryland and twelve years as a Shih Tzu dog breeder in Ohio.

Her education includes undergraduate degrees in Psychology with a minor in biology, Early Childhood Education, and Nursing, and a master's in Mental Health Counseling.

She is a lifelong learner, a dog lover, and passionate about the welfare of animals. Her favorite breed for over 50 years has been the Shih Tzu, but she has also lived with poodles, Maltese, Yorkshire Terriers, beagles, English bulldogs, carin terriers, and a Cocker Spaniel.

When not writing, reading, and researching dog-related topics, she likes to spend time with her eight Shih Tzu dogs, husband, and family, as well as knitting and crocheting. She is also the voice behind Miracle Shih Tzu and Smart-Knit-Crocheting

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