Dog Parent? The Benefits of Pet Insurance in Divorce

People love their pets and consider them members of the family. So it comes as no surprise that, when divorce is on the table, strong emotions flow about who will get the dog. Or maybe you will share custody of a pet after divorce. Decisions like these will be important to make during the divorce process.

In this article, we explore some fundamental questions about dogs and divorce (other pets, too). For example, how do you decide who gets the dog? Can you have joint custody? How does sharing a dog, cat, or another pet after divorce work? We also shine the spotlight on a helpful tool you may appreciate as a pet owner: pet insurance. It can help you during litigation and cut your costs if decide to share your pet after divorce.

Who gets the dog (or other pet) in divorce?

Sometimes, divorcing spouses simply cannot agree on hot-button issues like who will get the dog. In these cases, a couple may have to rely on a judge to make this important decision. If you find yourself in this situation, realize that pets – unlike children – are viewed as property by the court.

Therefore, it's likely that the court would award the marital dog to one party or the other. In other words, it's unlikely that the court would recommend joint custody of the dog. If you want shared custody of your dog, you will have to come to an agreement about that outside of court. If this sounds hard, mediation may be the answer. Read our post on the three types of mediation to see if it might be an option for you. If mediation is not an option, the question remains: Which one of you gets the dog?

Prior ownership of the pet

The odds may be in your favor if you owned the dog before you got married. If Fluffy was your pet prior to your current marriage, the judge may deem it logical for Fluffy to remain your pet after the marriage. This is not guaranteed, however. The judge may also view Fluffy as marital property – a shared asset to be awarded to one spouse or the other.

The best interest of the kids

If your divorce involves children, the court may decide to send Fluffy to the home where the kids will be spending most of their time. For example, if Mom gets primary custody of the kids, Fluffy may go with Mom. Why? The kids love the dog. They're attached to the dog. Therefore, it's in the kids' best interest to stay close to the dog.

The best interest of the pet

In some jurisdictions, the best interest of the pet is a valid concern when awarding pet custody. For example, if one of you will have a fenced yard and the other will have an apartment with a balcony, the judge may decide that the home with the yard would be better for the pet. If one pet parent has a history of cruelty toward the pet, the judge may very well award the pet to the other party.

Prior paperwork (including pet insurance paperwork)

If you're fighting for possession of a pet and your name appears on certain types of paperwork – adoption documentation, veterinary records, pet insurance forms – but your spouse's name does not appear on the documents, this may work in your favor. Gather any and all paperwork that may help you prove your affiliation with your pet in the eyes of the court.

How can you share custody of a dog, cat, or other pets after divorce?

Divorcing couples may decide to share custody of their pet. In this situation, it's a good idea to establish a timeshare calendar so there's never any doubt where Fluffy will be. The timeshare may be 50/50, 70/30, or another schedule of your choosing. Just as with co-parenting, don't forget to talk about important issues like diet (which brand of food will Fluffy eat?), custody exchanges (who will be in charge of transporting Fluffy to the other residence?), and holiday schedules.

Similarly, you may wish to open a joint savings account where you can each contribute funds to Fluffy's care and keeping. Note that even in a shared custody situation, one of you may be designated the primary caregiver. That person may be in charge of taking Fluffy to the vet, purchasing food and supplies, or making important medical decisions.


What are the benefits of pet insurance?

Whether you're single, married, or divorced, pet insurance offers significant benefits to pet owners. You already know that regular veterinary care gets expensive. In addition to maintaining a fund for checkups and vaccinations, it's helpful to have a stash of emergency cash to cover unexpected pet emergencies: broken bones, swallowed foreign objects, urinary blockages, and more.

But not everyone has cash on hand for a pet emergency fund. That's where pet insurance comes in. An accident and illness plan purchased through a pet insurance company typically covers emergency care, X-rays, lab tests, prescription meds, and illnesses like cancer. Notably, pet insurance does not typically cover maintenance costs (vaccinations and checkups), grooming, or pre-existing conditions that date back to before coverage was purchased.

Pet insurance in divorce

There are two ways having pet insurance can help you in divorce.

Custody battle

As previously mentioned, if one spouse's name appears on pet insurance paperwork and the other spouse's name does not, a judge may use this information to decide who gets the dog. The person who purchased pet insurance for the dog may be more likely to be awarded custody. This is not guaranteed, but it can be a point in their favor.

For this reason, it's a good idea to gather any such paperwork when facing divorce and a pet custody battle. Present it to your lawyer, or have it in hand when you go before the judge.

Joint custody costs

We've already established that buying a pet insurance plan can save you considerable money in the event of a pet emergency. If you're sharing custody (and costs), an insurance plan can relieve some of the financial burdens if a pet emergency arises.

Lapse in coverage: A potential pitfall

If you purchased pet insurance while married, you likely enjoyed some peace of mind knowing that Fluffy's expenses would be covered in the event of an emergency. Unfortunately, pet insurance is one of those "details" that may fall by the wayside during divorce stress. If you forget to keep up with premium payments, for example, you could experience a lapse in coverage. If one or both of you move and fail to provide your address change to the insurance company, this could also result in a coverage lapse.

So whether Fluffy goes with you, your spouse, or the custody is split between the two of you, don't forget to keep your pet insurance company in the loop about any changes that take place.

Head of Content
Communication, Relationships, Personal Growth, Mental Health
As Hello Divorce's Head of Content, Katie is dedicated to breaking down the stress and mess of divorce into clear, helpful content that delivers hope rather than fear. Katie most often writes about the emotional toll of divorce, self-care and mindfulness, and effective communication. Katie has 20+ years of experience in content development and management, specializing in compelling consumer-facing content that helps people live better lives. She has a Master's in Media Studies from the University of Wisconsin. Katie lives in Texas with her husband and two adorable cats, and you can find her hiking and bird watching in her free time.