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In A Divorce, Who Gets The Family Dog?

As a dog lover, it may be difficult to consider the family dog as an asset to be "divided" in a divorce.  You may be surprised to learn that most family law courts consider your beloved canine to be classified as personal property. In 2012, over 1/3 of American families owned at least one dog, nearly 70 million dogs. As roughly half of all marriages fail, decisions need to be made for millions of dogs.  Our firm has handled many divorce cases involving dogs.

Since most courts consider pets to be personal property, judges usually follow the same guidelines they use to determine who gets to keep personal property when couples are dividing things due to divorce. Depending on where you live during divorce, your pets may be considered community property or separate property that is awarded to only one spouse during the divorce.

During the last several years, the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers surveyed divorce lawyers throughout the U.S. and discovered a significant increase in the number of pet custody cases finding their way through the legal system.

Many couples consider their pet to be just like their child and some are not able or willing to come to a mutual agreement about which of them should keep the family pet following divorce.

Due to the increasing number of pet custody cases, some judges are becoming more open-minded and taking into consideration many factors that can help them reach a determination about where the pet will live after divorce.

In some states, courts have awarded shared custody, visitation and pet support payments after reviewing evidence and testimony provided by the dog's owners and even expert witnesses regarding what is in the pet's best long term interest.

Some judges take into account which person can provide the most attention, love and take the best care of the pet in a manner similar to deciding parental custody cases.

How can you decide if keeping the family pet is the best decision for you?

Here are a few things to ask when considering keeping the family pet:

  • Do you have a flexible work schedule or access to a reliable person who can fill in for you to care properly for your pet while you are at work?
  • Do you have the financial means to provide for the pet throughout the expected length of the pet's life span?
  • Do you have the majority of parenting time with the children who are attached to their beloved family pet?
  • Has your spouse neglected the pet's basic needs or acted abusively toward the pet?
  • Who will have more space for the dog to exercise and play following divorce?

If at all possible, it's best to try to negotiate a signed and dated agreement in writing with your soon-to-be-ex spouse before or during divorce to avoid the headaches and expense of filing legal papers with the court to determine who gets that dashing dog or curious cat.

If you have had the personal experience of splitting up the pets due to divorce, how did you work it out?

Source: Huffington Post, Nancy Kay, 11/10/13

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