It’s clear the relationship isn’t worth salvaging. A breakup is imminent, and it’s time to divvy up assets. But a question lingers: Who gets the pets?
While pets have historically been treated as property in the eyes of the law, that’s starting to change.
Earlier this year, a new law went into effect in Alaska requiring courts to take an animal’s well-being into consideration in the event of a divorce. It also allows judges to assign joint custody of pets. A Rhode Island lawmaker introduced a similar bill in late February.
It’s rare for couples who adopt a pet together to plan for their furry friend’s future if the relationship goes south. Tricia Goostree, founder and managing partner of the law firm Goostree Law Group, said she has never had a couple raise it as part of prenup negotiations.
“In our practice, typically one party retains the pet,” Goostree said. “In certain circumstances, people establish a schedule to visit with their pets or even provide for how the pet will be cared for financially following a divorce.”
But what if you never make it to the altar? When her then-boyfriend bought her a Yorkie-poodle mix about 1½ years ago, Kristen Gargiulo remembers thinking at the time that it was a bit too much too soon.
“I thought it was a little premature, but it’s hard to tell a serious boyfriend that getting a dog is premature,” the Arlington, Va., resident said. “A couple months later, he moved in, so obviously we were serious enough for him to move in, and then a couple months after him moving in, we got engaged.”
But Gargiulo and her fiancé wound up breaking up in mid-2016, and she’s been taking care of the dog, Kodi, since. “I don’t think I can ever see him [her ex] ever again, so sharing the dog would be too hard for me,” she said.
Kim Carr of Nashville had it slightly easier. She and her ex bought a house together and adopted a dog. Then a couple of years later, they adopted a second dog. But a year after adopting the second one, the couple realized that while their love for their dogs was forever, their love for each other was not.
They each took one of the pets.
“Because there were two dogs, we knew that neither of us wanted to take both of them on, so the natural thought was, ‘We’ll just split them up, and I’ll take one dog, and he’ll take the other.’ I definitely still miss that dog, but you just kind of knew that he was not leaving that relationship without that dog.”
So, what should nonmarried couples who are thinking about adopting a pet together do beforehand? Carr said that even though it may be unpleasant to think about, make sure there’s a plan in place, so the dog is taken care of, just in case the romance doesn’t work out in the long run.
“If you’re going to get a dog together, only put one person’s name on the paperwork,” she said. “That just makes it very clear-cut and dry if you’re to break up who has ownership.”
But don’t discount the power of emotion.
“It could be that one person wants it initially and the other person falls in love and can’t let go,” she said.