By Michael Aurit, JD, MDR and Karen Aurit, MA, Co-Founders of The Aurit Center For Divorce Mediation Located in Scottsdale, Arizona
DEAR DIVORCE MEDIATORS: My husband and I have decided to divorce. We are barely talking at the moment. We have a 7-year old son, Eric and a 3-year old daughter, Ella. We also have two Goldendoodles, “Rocky” and “Roadie.” I think we’re on the same page about sharing time with Eric and Ella. However, our dogs are going to cause us a major divorce war!
Splitting them up is not an option—they are best friends. But, neither of us will agree to give them up. Will we actually have a “pet custody” battle? How will this go down in court?
Do you have any solutions for us? -- FURRY-OUS IN PHOENIX
DEAR FURRY-OUS: You and your soon-to-be-former-spouse both love your dogs. For most families, pets are more than property—they are loving members of the family.
Unfortunately, Arizona courts treat doggies in divorce no different than dish towels—as personal property. This means that at end of a long and painful trial, a Judge will “award sole ownership” the dogs to one of you. Since you have two dogs, a Judge may also to award one dog to each of you—exactly what you both know is the worst outcome for them. In some cases, pets can even be removed from both owners.
The good news is—you don’t need a Judge to decide this for you. Parents (of pets and children) are consistently unhappy, and often emotionally and financially devastated, when they enter litigation and allow the court to decide their future.
In divorce mediation, you can both reach creative, personalized agreements about Rocky and Roadie in the same way you can approach your children and all other divorce issues. A professional mediator can identify every issue you should think about, and help you reach agreements that meet both of your wants and needs. This way, you stay in control over your own divorce terms.
There are many ways you can personalize your own “pet parenting plan” in divorce mediation without ever going to court. You might even approach the dogs, like you approach your children.