Two houses, two scratching posts, two heads

When Jessica van der Linden, 39, divorced, she and her ex-husband didn’t have to think long about where dog J-me (pronounced Jimmy) would live. “It was clear from the first moment that she was going to stay with me,” she says. “He was really more of my dog. And my ex had a full-time job. But I understood that he wanted to keep seeing her.” So they agreed that J-me would be with him on the weekends.

Nice arrangement, but definitely not a given. Dividing things up can be tough, but who gets the dog or cat after a divorce — and why? Is joint custody called a user arrangement in the case of animals an option?

Moderator, former family lawyer and relationship therapist Wills Langedijk wrote in 2013 Who gets a lassie?A handbook for pet owners in divorce. The reason for writing it was the increasing number of requests she received to mediate the preparation of a visitation arrangement for animals, especially dogs, during a divorce.

“You laughed at me for that booklet,” Langedijk recalled. Sharing a dog? Why would.” But now it has become a serious business. If it is not because you keep a dog or cat and so money can be earned, it is for sentimental reasons. “The situation with pets has changed a lot in recent years. “They become babies,” Langedeck says. “The emotional charge is so great that it becomes a reason to go to court.”

A somewhat older and better known case is that of Edwin de Rooy van Zuydwen vs. Princess Margherita of Bourbon de Parma from 2005. The judge decided that Paco the dog would stay with Margherita. The couple did not marry into a joint property, and because Paco was paid for by Margarita and listed as owner in the family tree, he remained her property. To her ex-husband’s dismay, she did not have to give her ex-husband dog visitation rights.


Cats can also be the subject of a lawsuit. For example, a couple’s husband was completely assigned two cats last September, while his ex-wife thought they belonged to her. According to the judge, she could not prove why they moved to her.

Animals are a tricky legal field, Langedeck says. In addition to the traditional categories of goods, Dutch law includes, since January 1, 2013, the category of animals as well. As a result, animals are no longer trade, but living beings.

Langedijk says this amendment has no legal consequences yet. “It is symbolic legislation.” The animal is still property, nothing has changed. However, she is of the opinion that in recent years there have been “revolutionary rulings” in Spain and Portugal, among other countries, which are actually changing the legal qualifications of an animal. For example, a change in the law in Spain ensured the possibility of judicially regulated co-parenting of a pet. There, the animal is no longer a thing, but a full-fledged member of the family, whose interests are put first during the divorce.

And you expect that this will also happen in the Netherlands in the long term. We are moving in this direction, but it is not easy. This means that the animal is no longer a thing, but a person.” But for most couples, there is no court involved. “In general, people seem to be able to arrange it themselves.” This was the case with Josje Pot (33) and her ex-husband. They were They live together in the house that used to belong to her parents, so it made sense for her to stay there.” And so it also made sense for our cats P and A, who we picked up together two years ago, to stay with me.”

Her ex-husband remained involved with Animals. “We’ve been co-parenting for a while. When I went on vacation I called him and said, buddy, it’s your cats too, time to pet them again. And so he came to get them.” That whole car is full. Three scratching posts, two litter boxes, all the toys, all the food and two cats.” They stayed with him for four months, then took turns. “Until she had a new friend, she had nothing to do with cats. Then it was done.”


Divorce is something many animals go through, says Claudia Fink, a behavioral biologist at Utrecht University. “Fifty percent of families have an animal.” In 2021 — last year’s numbers are not yet available — 25,962 marriages ended in divorce, and 2,686 couples with a registered partnership chose to separate. “Divorce, which is often accompanied by quarrels, often takes a toll on the animals.”

And this is before the moment when the household relics must be divided. Then you see that people will drag this animal. Of course because there is a love for the dog or cat, but sometimes it annoys the other as well.” Owners, Vinke says, have to put their feelings aside and look from the animal’s perspective. “Then you have to step over your shadow, because you may not be your dog’s favorite person. The animal’s interests really have to come first.”

Sometimes divorced couples want to keep the animal with them and they just can’t figure it out. In this case, people can go to a broker with special attention to the pet. More and more brokers are offering this particular form of mediation, under different names. Ingrid Smit has a special focus on dog owners and calls herself a “dog broker”. During mediation, you pay special attention to the animal’s welfare. Trying to find out with the owners what is the best option. You go back in time with them to find out “who wanted a dog, who made the purchase, what was the dog’s role in the family, who walked with it, and how the holidays are filled.”

Then they discussed the options. “What’s possible if you want to share the dog, how about splitting the cost, the care, things like that.” Constantly monitors whether the interests of the animal are taken into account. “This is what’s most important: reminding ex-partners to choose what’s best for the animal — not for themselves.”

Although Jessica van der Linden and her ex quickly agreed on J-me, it took her some time to get used to the new situation, especially the dog itself. At first I reluctantly went to his new house, which I found very disturbing. I thought: If it has to be this way, we won’t.” Then she brought the dog herself several times and as soon as she entered the hall of the apartment she started shaking violently. “Then she was perfectly happy again, she just had to get used to it.” They did it this way for seven years, paying dog tax, insurance, and splitting the vet costs.

Almost a year ago, the user ranking ended with the death of J-me. “We did it together until the last minute.” They put her to sleep at the vet. “A few days later we went to the animal funeral home, we cried together. It belonged to both of us until our last breath.”

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