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Can you avoid a bitter dispute over pets in a divorce?

For many couples, particularly those without children, one of the most difficult decisions to make during a divorce is who gets the pets. Often these animals are their surrogate children. However, they aren't considered children under the law, but property.

Therefore, if the couple can't agree on custody and visitation issues and they take the matter to court, in most cases, the judge isn't required to consider what's in the best interests of an animal, as they would with a child. A couple of states have enacted or are considering legislation that would require judges to consider the pet's interests.

So if a couple has adopted an animal together before they get married, it may be wise to stipulate who will get custody of the critter if they should divorce in their prenuptial agreement. In most cases, however, couples bring their own animals into the marriage, so they're considered non-marital property that each person would take with them in a divorce.

When couples adopt animals together after they're married, things can get sticky if they divorce. One way to avoid that is for just one person to be listed as the "owner" on the animal's documents. However, the other spouse may well be the one who develops a particularly close bond with the pet.

Whether you and your spouse have made any previous provisions for how custody of your animals will be divided if you break up, it should be your goal to reach an agreement in a divorce that satisfies everyone, including your four-legged children.

Source: Utica Observer-Dispatch, "Who gets the dog in the divorce?," Matt Lindler, Tribune News Service, April 01, 2017

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