dog sitting in a box because owners are getting a divorce

By Nicole Pajer

Breakups inevitably come with the splitting up of material possessions—taking what you initially came into the relationship with and divvying up items like couches and coffee tables. But what happens when you own a dog together? Figuring out what to do with a dog that you owned with an ex can be a tough and emotional battle. While it’s easy to say that you’d like to take Fido yourself, it’s best to keep the dog’s interest in mind when deciding its post-breakup fate.

Just like in dealing with kids in a divorce or breakup, there are three typical scenarios that former couples with a shared dog can explore:

Your Options for Deciding Who Gets the Dog After a Divorce or Break Up

You Split Custody

“My ex and I have had joint custody for 2 years. It works really well and we’ve worked it out so one of us has the dog for a week and then we switch for the next week.” —Lisa Chang

You Give Full Custody to the Other Person

“When Josh and I split, I had to move somewhere where I couldn’t have a dog. The lawyer asked if I wanted visitation rights in the divorce papers, however, I was moving and starting a very demanding job and wouldn’t have the proper time to devote to spending time with Duncan. I figured it would be too hard on him for me to just pop into his life sporadically. I gave Josh full custody. It was hard on Duncan at first but in the long run, I took comfort in knowing that he was able to be with the parent that had the most time to devote to him.” —Hilary Parker

One of the Owners Takes Custody But Gives the Other Visitation Rights

“Emily took Charlie when we broke up. It was hard to give him away but we worked it out so I could still visit him. I go pick him up and take him to the park every now and then and even though I’m not around much anymore, he’s still always happy to see me.” —Bob Browne

After assessing your options, how do you decide which scenario works best for you? While many of these decisions are settled in court, The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) recommends amicably working this out with your ex while taking lifestyle factors into consideration. Before deciding who is going to keep the dog and how you are going to handle custody, consider:

Splitting up is never easy, especially when there is a beloved pet involved. Whether or not you and your ex decide to share custody, give the dog to solely one of you, or draw up visitation rights, make sure that you have your dog’s best interest at heart.

How did you handle dog custody when your relationship ended? Let us know in the comments section below.

  • Who is moving to a new home? A break up can be stressful enough on a pet without it having to relocate to new environment.
  • If the pet belonged to one of the owners before entering into the relationship, the couple should consider giving custody to that person as the dog may be more attached to them.
  • Who has the most time to properly care for the dog? It’s only fair that your beloved pet is able to spend time with the owner that has enough flexibility in their schedule to exercise and spend time with it.
  • Do you have children that are attached to the dog? If so, it may be best to have the dog live with whichever parent the children will live with.
  • Do you have more than one dog? While an obvious solution may be for each person in the relationship to take one of the dogs, it’s important to assess how attached the dogs are to one another. Splitting them up may cause more of an emotional strain than you think.
  • If you are considering co-parenting, is it possible for you to maturely work out a shared custody situation? It may sound like a good idea but it only really works when you’re able to put aside your differences for the sake of your dog. You will have to see each other when transferring the dog between homes after all.

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