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Hi all. I am requesting advice/help with a dog ownership/custody issue.
In 2018 I adopted a dog from a local shelter while in a relationship. I paid the adoption and other required fees along with signing the official adoption papers which list myself as the adopter/owner. Just over a year after adopting the dog my ex and I split up and I moved out. For the last 10 months we have shared time between having the dog. Under the unique circumstances of Covid my ex had an opportunity to have more time with the dog than I expected, nevertheless, we are ‘sharing’ time with the dog. The dog is registered with the county under my name as the owner, his microchip is registered under my name as the owner and his veterinary records also list me as the owner. Recently my ex has made subtle steps to make me believe that they will try and argue custody of the dog. We have no written or legal agreement to say that there is ‘joint custody’ despite my effort to share visitation. California law initially states that the dog would be mine since he is considered property that I solely purchased. The new laws now have me believe that my ex will have some ability to argue that because we have spent shared time with the dog that they could perhaps gain custody if they take it to the courts. Does anyone have any experience or advice to my situation? I am also in the process of registering the dog as an emotional support animal for myself. Does that give me an advantage? I have felt like allowing them to have time with the dog was an act of kindness after the breakup but I am regretting that decision now. Any help would be greatly appreciated!!
 

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Since dogs are considered property in the US, my understanding (as someone who is in no way a lawyer) is that legal ownership favors people who pays the bills. Your name being on the adoption papers is a good start, but a court may also look at who's paying for food and veterinary care.

I'm not sure you having an ESA letter from a healthcare professional would be an advantage or not, since an ESA doesn't need any special training, so it'd be harder to argue that you need it to be that specific dog. It might, though.

If you can't work this out with your ex, it might be worth consulting a lawyer to see whether you have a case. Most will charge even for a phone consult, but at least you'll have a better idea of where you stand.
 
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