Custody arrangements are never easy when you’re going through a divorce. Those who are lucky can work things out on their own. But many times, courts have to get involved to create a fair arrangement with the child’s best interest in mind.
But what about making a dog custody agreement?
In most states, pets are considered property, rather than family members. As Alaska and Illinois already recognize pets as more than property and have issued custody arrangements for them in divorce cases, that’s changing.
But unless you live in one of those states, the court will likely not have much involvement in what happens to your dog in a divorce. If you can’t decide how to work out an arrangement for “pet custody” on your own, you can use the help of a mediator. But before you step inside a courtroom or hire a mediator to help, keep some of the following questions in mind.
Obviously, you want what’s best for your furry friend. By coming up with answers to these questions, you might be able to decide with your former spouse where your dog would be the happiest, and how you can work out a healthy dog custody agreement.
Who has the most space?
According to the Animal Welfare Act, pets must have an adequate amount of space wherever they’re staying. They need to move around, sit down, and lie down comfortably without being cramped. If you want to get technical, you can follow these steps to make sure your dog has enough space:
- Measure your dog from the tip of their nose to the base of their tail.
- Add six inches to that measurement result.
- Multiply the number by itself to get the minimum square inches required for your pet.
- Divide that number by 144 to get the minimum number of square feet required for your pet.
In addition to having enough space, your dog should be comfortable with other elements in the home. It should be quiet, have a consistent temperature, and have plenty of areas that are away from direct sunlight.
Your dog should also have the freedom to run around and play. Interactive toys like an RC car for dogs can be a great way to utilize the space you have and to wear your pup out.
So think about the space you have versus the space your former spouse has. Where would your dog be happiest and have the most room? If you have a smaller home, like an apartment, you may have to sacrifice, keeping your dog to keep them happy and healthy. But downsizing doesn’t mean you can’t have a pet. Smaller animals like guinea pigs, cats, or even a smaller dog might help you to feel less lonely during this challenging time.
Who has the most time?
It’s not just about space when it comes to who should “get” the dog. It’s about who has the time to care for your pet, too, properly. Dogs are social creatures. They need regular interaction, play, and attention.
Now that many people are working from home due to COVID-19, one of you may have more time to spend with your dog than the other. If you (or your former spouse) are working from home, you can take care of your dog while staying productive at work each day by:
- Developing a routine with them
- Having a designated space for them during the day
- Taking frequent breaks to go on walks and play
Even if both you and your former partner work full-time and aren’t home much, consider who would be able to provide more consistent care for the dog. Maybe one of you is more willing to invest in smart tech to feed your dog and monitor them when you aren’t there. Or, maybe one is more willing to pay for a “doggie daycare” where your four-legged friend can have social interaction throughout the day.
Make sure your dog is happy
Divorce can take a toll on your mental and emotional health. Dogs are wonderful support animals, and if you’ve had your furry best friend for a long time, they can provide you with the comfort and love you need to get through your divorce. But as difficult as it may be to set aside your feelings, the best thing to do when making a dog custody agreement is to decide what will make your dog happy.
For some couples, that means “sharing custody” with their dog as they would with a child. For others, a tough decision has to be made about one person keeping the dog.
While your marriage may not have ended on good terms, agreeing on what makes your dog happiest is something that you’ll have to decide on together since a court likely won’t do it for you. Think about who can exercise your dog, who can schedule playtime, prepare meals, and do things together. Chances are, one of you will stand out with those tasks more than the other.
Dan Matthews is a writer with a degree in English from Boise State University. He has extensive experience with nose boops and chin scritches. You can find him on Twitter and LinkedIn.