This blog page is not just about divorce. It will also assist you in documenting all the work that went into training your service dog so that if there is a legal issue, you already have documentation proving all the time you spent training, working with and caring for your dog.
REMINDER: MARY MCNEIGHT IS NOT A LAWYER. THIS IS GENERAL ADVICE WE GIVE ALL OUR STUDENTS.
When My ex-husband left me in 2012 the only thing I really cared about was making sure I kept possession of my service dog Liame. He was purchased during the marriage and was, theoretically, communal property. Given the way dogs are now increasingly treated in divorce cases, it’s possible that the court could have placed him in a Pet Custody Agreement forcing me to share visitation of my service dog with my ex giving him access to him over the weekend and holidays. Yes that’s right, I could have been FORCED to share my service dog with my ex-husband. Thankfully my ex did not pursue this avenue because he knew that I had contacts in the local and national media that would have annihilated him for having done so. However, you probably do not have the resources I had during the time of the divorce. So I’m going to outline the best way to try to ensure that YOU end up having sole possession of your service dog in a divorce. Additionally, the information in this article will help you in ANY legal challenge. For example a student of mine got a car accident with a drunk driver and she had to have records proving that her dog was a service dog and not just some pet who got hurt in the car with her. If she would have had the information in this blog post already assembled it would have made her case more successful.
Acquiring The Dog:
- When your breeder or rescue hands you a contract to sign, make sure YOU are the only signer of the document. If your partner is listed as a purchaser, it gives them more rights to the animal.
- If you get your dog from someone who is selling a dog to you that just needs rehomed be sure to get SOME form of receipt that has only your name on it.
- If your city or county has licenses, make sure the dog is registered in your name only. Additionally, if your city or county has a designation for service dogs make sure your name is listed as the person who utilizes the dog for your disability.
- When you take your dog in for vet care have them create a separate account just in your name for your service dog.
- Make sure when you microchip the dog, the microchip is in your name only.
An example of a photo proving socialization training.
- Make sure all purchases for the dog are on a credit card that is in your name only (food, vet care, toys, treats, vests, crates, grooming, etc). This can prove that you are ultimately the only one who pays for the care of the dog. If you can get a credit card that is ONLY for dog expenses this will be very helpful when tax time comes around.
Care (track in a small, easy to access, spreadsheet)
- Track in a quick small spreadsheet who feeds and cleans up after the dog every single day
- Track every time you groom your dog, especially if you do this task yourself
- Track every time you take your dog for a walk, exercise or play with your dog
Training (track actions in a small, easy to access, spreadsheet)
- Get documentation that you paid for and attended every dog training class
- Make sure you take the AKC S.T.A.R. Puppy Test and the AKC Canine Good Citizen Test and are listed as the sole owner of the dog on each test
- Document every minute that you spend training your dog whether it’s as mundane as practicing heeling or as complicated as teaching your dog to stay at the county fair while horses are riding by him.
- Document every minute you spend socializing your dog including date, time and location of each socialization experience and what was observed in each outing. Socialization outings do not have to be just about when you plan to go out, even taking your puppy with you on your weekly trip to the grocery store is part of your dogs socialization process. If you can, use your cell phone to take photos of your dog in the location you are training in. This can be very useful in court when you are trying to prove your dog is a service dog.
- Document all miles spent going to socialization, training, vet care and even when you go to purchase something at the store for your dog
- Use your cell phone to snap a quick photo of every training class, socialization outing and training session so that you have proof of what you did and where you did it. With automatic geotagging on your photos you have proof of each outing.
- If you have a home security system make sure you save example videos of your dog alerting you to your medical condition
- Use your phone to record videos of your dog alerting you and performing various tasks for you. This will go a long way in convincing the opposing party in an injury lawsuit that the dog was indeed trained for service work.
- Have someone else use their phone to record you in public with your dog to prove how excellent your dog’s temperament is and how well trained it is in public. Again this will go a long way in an injury lawsuit to prove your dog was an actual service dog.
I hope you never have to deal with a divorce in which your ex tries to get partial custody of your service dog but its better to be safe rather than sorry when it comes to this difficult issue. Although most of this article deals with divorce, EVERYTHING in it is also applicable to an injury lawsuit. For example, If someone’s off leash dog bites your service dog and your dog becomes reactive to dogs for the rest of its life, you have the ability to sue that person for damages to your dogs ability to be a service dog, your lost independence and income earning potential, the cost to purchase a new, already trained dog and even money to cover the care and treatment of your now retired service dog for the rest of its natural life. Don’t leave things up to chance. Document, document, document!