Family Law

Me And You And A Dog Named Boo

I am regularly comforted by the unconditional love of our canine family member, Duncan.  He asks for little and gives so much.  So, what happens to the family dog when a couple separates?

North Carolina laws governing the equitable distribution of marital property when spouses separate and divorce provide that pets are property (not members of your family, like children).  This feels wrong to me and most other dog lovers.  If you are in court litigating who gets which property, the judge will treat your dog like personal property (the same as a truck, table or television).  If one spouse is getting the former marital home, the judge may decide that the dog should be distributed to that party, but that result is not guaranteed.

Does it have to be this way?  No.  There is a growing movement to treat pets as something other than mere personal property. One of the positive aspects of Collaborative Divorce, and negotiated settlements in general, is that the parties can “think outside the box.”  Increasingly, couples are devising custody and visitation provisions for their beloved pets.

If parents are splitting up, the more about the children’s lives that can remain constant, the easier the transition.  The family dog may become a comforting bit of stability for children struggling with the uncertainty of divorcing parents.  From the other direction, your furry friend may also be experiencing the stress of a family in conflict.  Maintaining consistency in schedules and routines may make the transition easier for the family dog.  Parental conflict negatively impacts children and pets.

If we recognize that we are connected to the world around us, including animals, we are more likely to understand the harm that comes from an adversarial relationship with our partner, even as the romantic relationship ends.  The dogs that have blessed our family have taught me patience, flexibility and grace. If you and your partner can craft a custodial agreement that serves the best interest of your pet, you will be better equipped to resolve the other issues of your separation and divorce with patience, compromise and respect.  

If you and your partner need help in crafting an Agreement that incorporates pet-friendly provisions, please reach out to Irvine Law Firm.  When it comes to treating your furry friend as something other than personal property, rest assured.  We get it.