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Navigating joint custody of pets

Human relationships are fluid—marriages end, grown children leave the nest, and roommates go their separate ways. During such transitions, issues of pet custody can quickly become complex. If you’ve decided that sharing custody of a pet is best for all involved, there are a few things you can do to give the new arrangement every chance for success.

Pet Custody Law

The law views pets as property, and in an increasing number of divorce cases, judges are being tasked with determining who gets custody of a family pet or even with determining visitation rights. Rather than leave such a personal decision to a third party, many pet owners choose instead to work out mutually satisfactory pet custody arrangement themselves. If you’re planning to pursue this option, one party usually assumes the responsibility of being the pet’s documented owner. And while you may choose to share expenses such as grooming and veterinary care, only one owner is usually cited as the financially responsible party on your pet’s paperwork.

One Pet, Two Households
If you’re planning to share a pet between two households, there are a few things you can do to ease the transition.

  • Be sure both homes are adequately supplied to house a pet. That means each home should be equipped to provide food, water, bowls, toys, treats, and creature comforts like a dog bed or favorite blanket.
  • Observe a consistent custody schedule. Pets can be easily confused by unexpected changes in environment. So, if you’re considering a shared custody arrangement for your pet, try to hold to a set schedule so your pet will know what to expect.
  • Look for problematic behaviors. Pets have a way of letting us know when their emotional lives are out of balance. If you have a shared custody arrangement, be aware of any changes in your pet’s appetite, toileting habits, and other behaviors, as these can indicate when an arrangement isn’t working for your pet.
  • Maintain consistent rules. Pets do best when they know what is (and what is not) permitted. For example, a dog that’s permitted on the couch in one house but forbidden in another may find it difficult to understand and comply with both rules, so it’s best to be as consistent as possible when making and enforcing rules.
  • Longer custody periods are better than short. Pets tend to dislike rapid transitions, so you may want to consider adding longer stays (weeks or months) to your custody arrangement to help your pet feel more stable and centered.
  • Keep a pet-sitter on call. If there’s one certainty in life, it’s that unexpected occurrences have a way of altering even the best plans. By working with a trusted pet-sitter, you can be sure your pet gets proper care, even when schedules change.

The Benefits of Shared Pet Custody

Pets form deep and lasting bonds with those they love, and shared custody can help to preserve these bonds, even when family members or roommates no longer live together. Shared custody allows a pet to remain closely connected to loved ones. Another benefit of shared pet custody is that it allows both parties to share in the expenses and responsibilities of pet care. And while both households may maintain food and other pet supplies, you may decide to split larger expenses—like those of veterinary care and grooming—between both parties. Finally, pets may find that separated owners actually have more time for pet care and play than they did when they were together.


If you’ve decided that shared pet custody is best for your pet, we hope you’ve found some useful information here. With proper planning and scheduling, consistent rules, and vigilance for any problem behaviors, shared pet custody arrangements can and do work.

Cecily Kellogg is a pet lover who definitely has crazy cat lady leanings. Her pets are all shelter rescues, including the dog, who is scared of the cats. She spent eight years working as a Veterinary Technician before becoming a writer. Today she writes all over the web, including here at Figo.

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