Dog Divorce distress as warring couple fight in front of their hound

Year Published: 2009

A leading Cheshire law firm is encouraging divorcing couples to watch their behaviour in front of their pets as well as their children.

The Family team at SAS Daniels LLP solicitors says distressed dogs are increasingly becoming factors in how a divorce is conducted – and many couples are completely underestimating the impact the build-up to divorce and the consequent split can have upon their hound.

“This may well sound frivolous, but a dog has rights and its wellbeing can put huge demands on its owners, and actually cause intense complications when a couple split up,” said Head of the Family team.

“When there are children involved, they take priority. However, some couples are childless but have a very parent/child-like relationship with their pets – particularly dogs – and completely misjudge the impact a divorce can have.

“We encourage a collaborative law approach to divorce – which tries to help couples talk through a divorce amicably rather than turn it into an aggressive dispute – but sometimes a dog being involved can provoke almost as much emotional response as children being involved, and, I must say, on occasion more so.”

Pet care professional Sarah Walmsley, who runs Cheshire-based dog-minding service Fed & Watered said: “Part of my business is understanding animal behaviour. A dog can sense tension and upset, of that there is no doubt. But a dog is a pack animal, which means when there is dispute or aggression in a household, it will take the side of its pack leader – this is usually the man.

“The dog will no doubt pick up the vibes of an argument or a change in a relationship, and this can cause it to become very stressed, very quickly.

“If, when a separation occurs, the dog goes with the estranged wife, then there is a good chance there will be problems – because when it was part of a ‘family’ it saw itself as either an equal or a rival to the woman, with whom it might have been perfectly behaved, with the man being the pack leader.

“But the relationship can change very quickly, and the dog can become very aggressive towards the woman, feeling it has to compete to become leader of the new ‘pack’ – and if the man does not want custody of the dog, then this can cause even more complications with the dog ultimately needing to be re-homed.

“We would encourage any couple who are splitting up to very carefully consider their dog – dogs recognise arguments and even tense standoffs. They will take sides, they will become highly stressed.

“It is crucial for the wellbeing on an animal that it is considered, and, although I am reluctant to say it, it is probably very worthwhile to the dog if attempts are made to re-home it very early in the divorce process if there is the slightest belief it is destined for custody with the wrong partner.”

For more information contact a member of the Family team.

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