Divorce: Fighting for Fido, A Guest Post by Bruce Provda

Posted on June 17, 2015



It’s no secret that divorcing couples argue over money and custody of the kids. But in this world, custody of pets can be every bit as intense and exhausting. Bruce Provda has seen it all.

Bruce Provda is a New York-based family law attorney. Having more than 40 years of professional experience,
Bruce is a frequent media contributor and community leader. To contact him, reach out to Provda Law Firm, 40
Wall Street 11 Floor, New York, NY 10005, (212) 671-0936,


Noah Szubski and his ex, Chelsea Conrad, have been having a legal tug-of-war involving Cash.

No, Cash isn’t synonymous with money and it’s not a child’s name. Cash is the 5-year old Doberman caught up in this former-lovers’ spat. When they split in October, Cash went to live with Szubski. Szubski, who claims to have paid all of the dog’s expenses since he and Conrad moved to New York in 2013, also bought a French Bulldog, Bernie, to keep Cash company.

Conrad, daughter of “Wild, Wild, Wild West” actor, Robert Conrad decided to keep Cash instead and included him in her lease when she moved into a different apartment.

It was game on.

When the matter went to Family Court, a problem was discovered. There was no precedence in the court for doggie-custody when the co-owners had never married. According to Conrad’s attorney, Mia Poppe, there have been plenty of custody disputes, over dogs, between married couples, but never one involving a cohabitating couple. While Cash stood around wondering where home would be, the judge determined that Cash was community property and a decision would be made later to determine permanent doggie custody.

Steps to Get Custody

Many pet owners see their dogs as a part of the family. Most states though, view pets as property. In the middle of divorce proceedings the fate of the pet is typically determined along with the sofa, dishes, television and the rest of the household effects.

If you’re facing divorce and you want to take the dog with you, there are five steps that are imperative.

  1. Best Interest. Keep the pet’s best interest in mind. If you have a large shaggy dog that likes to run, they, nor you, will be happy in a small efficiency apartment.
  1. Talk to the Spouse. Communicating with your soon-to-be-ex may help the two of you come to a mutually satisfying agreement.
  1. Compromise. Be ready to compromise if your spouse wants to fight you on pet custody.
  1.  Inform Your Attorney. Let your lawyer know just how important custody of the pet is to you. There are no laws in place to address pet custody, so it’s up to you to get the idea of custody across to your attorney.
  1. Prepare for Court. If you and your spouse can’t settle the matter like grown-ups, be prepared to fight it out in court.

If you do have to fight over custody in court, remember the custody laws protect the best interests of human children and allow for shared custody, visitation and alimony. The rules for pets take the best interest of the owners into consideration.

Some Changes

Since pets are becoming a big part of life, some courts are starting to change their view. With the change, they are starting to think about treating pets more like— something many owners have been doing for years. So far, the change has primarily occurred with dogs, but soon courts may be seeing cats, birds and iguanas. Even if the laws completely change to allow for wider considerations in determining custody, the courts will still have some unanswered questions. In the meantime, creative arguments from the parties involved, combined with some open-mindedness and maturity, may satisfactorily resolve the custody question of “Who gets Rover?”

Pet Stress in Marriage Breakup

An animal psychologist claims that family pets can suffer from obsessive compulsive disorders brought on by the stress of divorce.  According to Sean Wensley, a senior vet at The Peoples Dispensary for Sick Animals, signs of a dog with a compulsive disorder may include chasing their tail or excessive licking of one, or more, limbs.  If the licking continues to excess, the area can become raw and itchy. The condition is known as “acral lick dermatitis.”

According to Wensley, other animals may show signs of stress as well.

Cats tend to suck or chew on woolen items like blankets and parrots will pull out their feathers when experiencing stress and trauma.

Wensley says owners have a responsibility to try and establish the most compassionate ways to help pets through the stress caused by a marital split.

Pet psychologists, also known as pet behaviorists, typically offer a free, initial consultation with the pet to develop a course of action, or treatment plan, to help the animal cope with stress associated with a divorce.  A successful treatment plan may include weekly pet therapy sessions in the psychologist’s office, at the client’s home or in a doggie park — if the dog isn’t shy.

One tip provided by Christina Shusterich of NY Clever K9, Inc., is to regularly hula-hoop with your dog.  According to Shusterich, hula-hooping will help effectively treat stress problems in dogs, keep them calm and boost their confidence. Shusterich says hula-hooping can be beneficial for all size dogs and will provide enough aerobic exercise in 15 minutes which would be the equivalent to being in the doggie run for an hour.

What about Cash?  While they wait on the judge’s decision, Szubski and Conrad have worked out a mutually agreeable visitation plan – Cash can even spend the night.