They say that every dog has its day. And these days, many families in Maryland, especially those with children but also many childless couples, have a dog or dogs as family pets. Everyone anticipates and expects that financial issues, ownership of the family home, custody of children, and a host of familiar issues will come up for resolution during a divorce. But one increasingly frequent -- one is almost tempted to say bone of contention -- is the question of who gets custody of the dog, a new family law issue.
Courts in most instances consider pets an item of personal property. Often, couples have difficulty coming to an agreement about who will take the dog, while in some instances, only one spouse wants the dog, which makes the decision much easier.
Some judges have acknowledged that a pet can, for many families, take on a role much more important than property, and that emotional issues are involved. Some judges have even fashioned shared custody, support, and visitation arrangements, and some couples have also come to such arrangements on their own. Some judges have also looked at which household is best able to care for the family dog.
The wishes and interests of children may be another factor worth considering. Additionally, if one ex-spouse will be living in a home with a backyard or in a residence close to a dog park or other wide open spaces, and the other will be living in a cramped apartment with only a concrete courtyard (or with a lease prohibiting pets) those might also be worthy of consideration.
Experienced family law attorneys have increasingly seen this issue come up and can offer some worthwhile advice.
Huffington Post, "Who Gets the Family Dog After Divorce?" Nancy Kay, Nov. 10, 2013