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Who gets the pets after a breakup?

Lori Wilson is a Home & Living columnist, as well as a freelance writer in Los Angeles, who after a lifetime of enduring harsh Michigan winters, relishes the warmth year round.

Pet custody options

There is nothing easy about a breakup, especially when you have to divvy up your shared belongings. When this includes your beloved pets, it gets even more complicated. Since pets are often considered a couple's children, trying to figure out custody of the dog or cat can get highly emotional. Before things get too out of hand, think about what's best for your animal and settle things like rational adults.

Pet custody options

Put your pet's needs first

When deciding who should keep your pet, take a hard look at their needs and determine which party is more prepared to meet them. Jennifer Keene, author of "We Can't Stay Together For the Dogs," suggests taking into consideration personality, activity level and any of your pet's special needs to determine whose lifestyle is best suited to deal with these issues.

Spilt them up

If you have more than one pet, think about each person taking one of them. Maybe your dog is more attached to you, and your cat is more attached to your partner. Or maybe your dogs aren't that bonded to each other. If separating your pets won't be too traumatizing for them, then splitting them up might be your best option.

Joint custody

Just like with children, many pet owners opt for this route. Setting up joint custody with your pets can get tricky, but it also allows both parties to remain in their pet's life. However, both owners must learn to keep their emotions for their former partner out of it and keep their pet's routine as normal as possible when agreeing to these terms. Also, remember that communication is key in this set up. Keeping your co-pet owner up to speed on any behavioral or physical changes will go a long way in keeping your agreement cordial, as well as keeping your pet's needs at the forefront.


If joint custody doesn't work out for whatever reason, you can also set up a visitation schedule of sorts. If one person retains full custody of the animal, the other can offer their services to take care of the pet when that person goes on vacation or is too busy at work to give enough attention.

The big picture

Many people view their pets as their family, especially couples who don't have kids. So when it comes to breaking up, deciding who gets custody of the pets can get just as dicey as it does with human children. It's becoming more common for people to end up in court over this issue or to draw up legal documents, but before you go to all that trouble and spend all that money, try to work things out in a rational manner first.

Not every situation is right for every fractured couple. But by putting your pet's needs first you can work out a mutually beneficial arrangement that allows you to stay in your pet's life -- and out of the legal system

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