Who Gets the Dog in a Divorce

When a couple separates, what happens to Fido? Find out how you can make the transition easier on your four-legged family member.

Who Gets the Dog in a DivorcePhoto: Thinkstock

Dog trainer and walker Adina MacRae says that when she got divorced five years ago, “there was never a debate over who was going to get the dog. My dog wouldn’t even leave the property with my ex-partner.”

But dog custody for separating couples is not always so clear-cut. “I’ve seen many couples for whom what happens with the dog is a big issue,” says clinical psychologist Carolyn Humphreys.

This is especially true if children are involved. “Dogs can be great sources of comfort and continuity for kids,” she says.

Continuity isn’t important just for children; it’s essential for dogs, too. That might mean the family pet remains in one home, even if the kids are splitting their time. “A sensitive dog would probably be better staying in one home,” says dog-training instructor Tamara McFarland. “Dogs look to adults for guidance and their routine. They see kids as playmates.”

For couples without children, says Humphreys, dog custody can be complicated. She recalls one couple who “resolved it by having the dog live in one home and the ex-partner coming over for walks.”

So how can you tell if your dog would adjust well to two households-or to lots of visits? “A good measure would be how the dog takes the transition when you bring him on visits to family or friends,” Mc-Farland says. Either way, she adds, breakups “can throw dogs off.” So expect at least temporary behavioural issues.

MacRae, who now shares her home with ten dogs, says, “Some dogs don’t deal well with change. But most take things as they come. If you have shared custody or want to visit, it should be okay if you’re not projecting anger towards your ex.”

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