Who gets the dog?


22 August 2014

Alleviating stress

Pet behaviourist Howard Jones, from Telford, Shropshire, said: "Treat your dog as sensitively as you would a child; try not to argue in front of him.

"Keep to the dog's routine as closely as you can, especially when it comes to feeding and walks. If things get too much, giving the dog a temporary home with friends or relatives may be an alternative stopgap.

"Destructiveness, poor condition, unsettled behaviour, disturbed sleep patterns, and out of character behaviour are all common signs of anxiety.

"I'm currently dealing with a case involving a prolonged separation between two people, where the dog, a Border Collie, is suffering adversely due to the sudden changes to his routine and environment," explained Howard. "This has resulted in extreme stress-related behaviour, as well as him developing defensive behaviour as a coping mechanism. 

Fortunately, through behaviour modification techniques, this behaviour is beginning to subside, but it takes time for any animal to adjust to either new surroundings or come to terms with a reformed pack."

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Custody battles

In the USA, dog custody battles are commonplace especially among celebrities, and the same is becoming true in the UK. Singer Cheryl Cole was reported as saying all she wanted from her marriage to footballer Ashley was her two Chihuahuas, Coco and Buster. Julia

Carling, wife of rugby player Will Carling, fought for and won custody of their Labrador, Biff.

Divorce lawyers are increasingly being asked to draw up legal agreements to set out custody and dog visiting rights.

In the UK, the law groups the family pet as part of the couple's personal possessions to be divided. The court treats the dog as an item of property and applies property principles to determine ownership of the dog.

How is custody decided?

Ros Reynolds, a family law specialist from Tenbury Wells, Worcestershire, believes dogs are often used in break-ups for the wrong reasons.

"Increasingly, couples fight for custody of their dog," said Ros. "It would be nice to believe this is because the dog is important to them, but sadly it may be simply that the dog is a pedigree and therefore a valuable asset, or is being used as a weapon to attack the other party. It has been known for one party to have the pet put to sleep rather than allow him to live with the other.

"Judges in this country will only treat the dog as an item of property, and won't be very interested in the doggy details and may be dismissive about the issue. Under the Matrimonial Causes Act section 25, which is the statute governing what a court can do regarding finances in divorce, it must take account of ‘all the circumstances of the case', so each case is considered individually

"The court must give first consideration to any children."

There is no such statutory provision to consider the dog's feelings except as an item of property. A valuable pedigree dog is likely to be more significant in a financial settlement.

"Certainly a dog can feature in an agreed solution which is later approved by the court," said Ros. "In those cases any agreement about the dog would normally form part of the preamble to the order rather than being made into an actual order of the court. This is often after much toing and froing in correspondence or perhaps a round table meeting."

So what can you do to protect your dog if you're going through a divorce? The key is to remain amicable and to always do what is in his best interests.