Dog Custody

For Kelsey Ramirez and Zach Woolhouse the hardest part of their divorce was deciding on who would get custody of their chocolate brown dachshund, “Moo.”

Dog Custody

Division of assets during divorce is standard. Child custody and visitation determinations are standard. But what about the dogs? There’s no doubt that over the years issues of pet custody have increased. A poll done on of 1,500 members of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers determined a 25% increase in pet custody issues over the last couple years. Dogs make up 88% of those custody battles. Cats make up 5 percent. Regardless, of the type of animal, it seems that for many couples, their pets are their children. So then what happens to Fido when mom and dad split up?
That’s exactly why Kelsey Ramirez and Zach Woolhouse decided to work with mediator Dan Simon.

“Dogs of Divorce” Reality TV Show

Simon is in the process of putting together “Dogs of Divorce,” a reality TV show about couples who turn to the mediation process to resolve their issues of dog custody.
Simon, who has a master’s degree in counseling psychology in addition to a law degree, seeks to help couples tap into their “natural desire to treat each other fairly.” He’s hopeful that “Focusing on dogs is a way to make it [divorce] less heartbreaking and more palatable.”
Sound crazy?
“This is clearly not trivial,” Simon said. “Sometimes, the relationship with the dog is particularly important when your relationship with your spouse is changing. It really is heartbreaking to come to terms with the fact that you may have to spend less time with the dog.”
As Simon has observed, couples typically decide on a primary owner. While shared custody is a common outcome, other couples simply decided that an ex is able to take the dog on walks from time to time. In couples that also share children, typically the pet travels back and forth on the same schedule as the children. For Ramirez and Woolhouse, joint custody works best. Still, as is seen in their case, even dog mom’s and dad’s must learn to co-parent. The two decided that handing Moo off in a busy parking lot was not in his best interest.
Simon seeks “to spread the word that people can rise up and take the high road with each other. No matter how angry and distrustful you are, if you take responsibility for how you behave, it’s very likely you can get to a good place.”


During the mediation process, you and your spouse (and your separate lawyers, should you choose) work with a mediator to discuss and resolve all the aspects of your divorce, including child custody and visitation, marital property division, and spousal support. A mediator works as a facilitator so that you can come to a resolution and divorce agreement that works for the both of you. Mediation works for many different couples, even those that are unable to see eye-to-eye on anything. A lot of couples have found that since both spouses are focused on reaching a conclusion, they are able to come to a decision quickly on aspects of the marriage. Benefits of the mediation process include:

  • Less cost than going to court or divorce hearings.
  • You’re able to control the process.
  • You’re still able to work with a lawyer if you feel you are unable to negotiate on your own.
  • Able to come to a resolution that both parties agree to.
  • Confidential process.
  • Has proven to help couples improve their communication skills so that they are able to avoid future conflicts.

While mediation works for most, for couples that have a history of domestic violence issues, mediation can be very difficult if not impossible. Also, if you or your spouse might have the penchant for delaying the process, because a mediator cannot force you to resolve anything, a standard divorce proceeding might help you to reach a decision faster and more efficiently.

The Mediation Approach

Each mediator will have his or her own process. Most likely it will start with a phone call, during which you will be asked to provide information regarding your marriage, your family, and what the issues are.

Some mediators just want basic information before the mediation begins, while others prefer that you gather all of the information during the first meeting between them and you and your spouse.

The First Meeting

During the first meeting the mediator will explain what you can expect from the mediation process. The “rules” are established. That might mean that everyone will be in the same room for the entire mediation, or that separate sessions will be held so that the mediator can get you and your spouse’s views in private. During this initial meeting you might be asked to sign an agreement that states you will keep all aspects of the mediation confidential and that you understand the mediator is not allowed to disclose what goes on there in court, should the divorce need to go to court.

Next Steps

After the mediator has reviewed the basic ground rules, you will make a short statement about your situation. Your spouse will as well. After that, it’s likely the mediator will ask some clarifying questions to make sure that all points are understood.

Next the mediator will assess what you and your spouse agree on, and what still needs to be agreed to. Then the mediator will outline how to achieve that agreement.

You will most likely be asked to gather more information, such as the value of your house. You will need to bring that information to the following meeting.

Coming to an Agreement

A mediator might decided to tackle the simpler issues first in order to build trust and encourage compromise for when it comes to deciding on the more difficult aspects of the marriage. This can mean who gets the computer and who gets the TV. From there, you will work into harder aspects, including pet custody and child custody.

The mediator will help you stay on track, while also brainstorming options when you and your spouse come to a stalemate on decisions. He or she will encourage you and your spouse to express your opinions, positions, and what’s important to you, while also help you to listen to each other so that a resolution can be made. A lot of times, this process is very beneficial to spouses that are unable to fully hear each other on aspects of their marriage, and can prove to be very beneficial to parents who must learn to co-parent.

If you are open to compromise and willing to listen in order to understand your spouse’s point of view, chances are you will have a very successful mediation process.

While you do not need to agree with your spouse, understanding your spouse’s real concerns are will allow you to have new ideas about how to resolve things. Any effort made on your side to understand, will hopefully be matched by your spouse.

Completing A Divorce Agreement

After negotiations are finished and you have found a solution, either the mediator or one of your attorneys will draft an agreement that will be incorporated with the rest of your divorce paperwork. This paperwork will become part of your divorce judgment. This means that a court can enforce what has been set forth in these documents if one of you doesn’t do what the agreements say you’ll do. Most people that are able to reach an agreement in mediation are much more likely to stick to what was agreed to because everyone is truly comfortable with the agreed to terms.

Working with a Divorce Attorney

Regardless of what process you use, either mediation or a standard divorce, the process is a difficult one, but one that can be aided by the help of a divorce attorney. There are many aspects of a marriage that must be decided, including child custody, marital property, and alimony. Working with a divorce attorney is a way to make the process smoother. If you’re considering divorce, you should also consider a divorce attorney like the ones at Law Offices of Korol and Velen, Certified Family Law Specialists.

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