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“The dog is man’s best friend.” (Ogden Nash)“

“The better I get to know men, the more I find myself loving dogs.” (Charles de Gaulle)

“Once you have had a wonderful dog, a life without one, is a life diminished.”(Dean Koontz)

People love their dogs. Dogs are treasured members of the family. Some people even treat their dogs like their children – or better.  When a couple breaks up, a decision needs to be made about the family dog. How is this determination made? Is it based on best interest like a child custody decision?  Or is a dog just another piece of property?  

Much to the surprise of dog lovers across this country, dogs are not human and, hence, the court will not deal with “custody” of the dog per se.  As much as individual judges may adore their dogs, and even imbue them with human characteristics, the law does not share this view.   Rather, dogs (like other pets) are considered personal property.  Which means that, if the parties cannot agree on who gets the dog, and the court has to make a determination, the decision is based on traditional concepts of ownership.  The relationship of love and affection between each party and the dog is not relevant in determining ownership, nor is the dog’s best interests.

Who gets the dog is based solely on who owns the dog i.e. who bought and paid for the dog.  If someone enters the relationship with a dog, the dog leaves the relationship with that party. If the dog is purchased during the relationship, then whoever paid for the dog keeps the dog. 

I don’t know what would happen if the dog was owned jointly, for example, if the money for the dog came from a joint account or the dog’s registration papers were in joint names. I haven’t come across a case that dealt with this issue.  Perhaps parties would be granted shared ownership of the dog?  I have seen separation agreements that deal with family pets, but I have yet to see a marriage contract do so.  Theoretically, a marriage contract could deal with the ownership of the dog since, in the eyes of the law, a dog is just like any other property that parties can contract about.

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