My Wife and I Are Divorcing. Can She Demand Money for the Dog?

Our editor-in-chief gives her two cents on who pays for the dog after divorce

Headshot of Kristin Myers between illustrations of people.

Dear Kristin,

My wife and I are getting a divorce after a decade of marriage. The divorce is amicable and we’ve been on the same page when it comes to custody of our kids and splitting our assets. The main problem is our dog. We adopted “Noodle” about a year into the marriage, before we had children. We both love the dog and affectionately think of him as our “first child.” In fact, the only hurdles in our divorce agreement have centered around Noodle because we both want to keep him. 

We’ve decided that because my wife will have the children most of the time, Noodle will stay with her and the kids. But we have agreed that when the children come to visit me for longer stays, Noodle will come along as well. Noodle is technically a senior dog and while he hasn’t had any serious health problems as yet, we do anticipate more expensive problems will likely crop up as he continues to age. 

This brings me to my dilemma: My wife wants “child support” for Noodle! I’ve never heard of anything like this before and it seems ludicrous to make financial demands for a dog. Noodle will have a bed, toys, and food provided to him when he’s at my house, but because my wife fought so hard for custody of him, I believe she should pay for all of the pet care costs. Is this something that my soon-to-be ex-wife can demand? Should I ignore her, or give in to her request and give her some money each month to take care of Noodle? 

Sincerely,
Noodle’s Dad

Dear ND,

While I’m sorry to hear about the end of your marriage, I’m glad it’s been pretty painless thus far. And congratulations to you and your soon-to-be ex for managing the difficult and emotional process of divorce peacefully. 

I’ll start with your last question first: Keep things amicable and give your ex a few dollars every month. But are you obligated to? Probably not. Despite our affection and attachment to them, pets are still considered property in most states, so it’s unlikely a court will order you to pay for Noodle in the same way it would for your children. (Though some states are moving toward specific rules for pet custody.)

The annual cost for a dog's care can be as much as $10,000, which can be a costly monthly expense. While I’m not saying you should split the cost of caring for Noodle evenly, determine an amount that you feel comfortable with, and consider sending it to your wife. You referred to Noodle as your “first child,” so if it won’t financially burden you, why not ensure that your divorce won’t compromise Noodle’s care?

But more importantly, even after your divorce is finalized, you are going to have an ongoing relationship with your ex. You’ve managed to navigate your divorce so far without being at each other’s throats—why risk complicating things? If you can afford to pay “petimony” (alimony for a pet), don’t create a problem where there isn’t one. Sometimes, the cost of “losing” a battle is cheaper than winning. I think this is one of those times. 

Good luck!
-Kristin

If you have questions about money, Kristin is here to help. Submit an anonymous question and she may answer it in a future column.