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Who gets the dog when the spouses divorce?

Deciding who will get custody of the kids in a divorce can sometimes be easier than determining who will get custody of the family pets.

Considering that nearly 80 million households in the United States have at least one pet, when couples divorce, ownership of the animals can become a real sticking point.

The reason for this is that courts view animals as property, no matter how much their human companions consider them to be four-legged children. Devoted pet owners can be appalled at the prospect of dividing the pets along with the furniture, but the fact remains that is what the courts will do.

But what is the true value of a family cat or dog? While some purebred animals can have a substantial price tag when purchased, it's the intangible emotional value their human owners bestow on their pets that can cause them to become pawns in a divorce war.

A family law attorney from New York who also is considered to be an animal law expert stated, "People use the animals against one another," in contentious divorces. But because the courts have a great deal of latitude in the manner in which they split up property between divorcing spouses, it's generally better for the parties to reach accord between themselves.

Some of the more progressive judges give weight to what is in the best interests of the pets themselves. Of course, when there are children involved who have close relationships with their pets, judges are likely to rule that the pets live in the home where the children will be the majority of the time.

If keeping ownership of the family pet is important to you, make sure that you request that your family law attorney represents your wishes in any settlement negotiations during your divorce.

Source: Bloomberg, "In a Divorce, Who Gets to Keep the Family Dog?," Ben Steverman, April 29, 2016

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