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Pets as a divorce issue

Most pet owners in California and elsewhere consider their animals to be members of their families. Couples who are going through a divorce often find that deciding who will get custody of their dogs and cats can be as difficult an issue as anything else arising during the proceedings.

Most courts treat household animals to be personal property, and judges usually follow the same protocol as they would when determining who gets possession of household items which, depending upon the state, can be community property or separate property. Since many people consider a pet to be of equal importance as a child, spouses can sometimes be unable to decide between themselves who the animal should go to. The significant increase in the number of divorce cases that are involving pet ownership disagreements have led some courts to modify their formerly strict approaches.

Many judges will now consider who can provide the most love, financial support and time for the animal in question. A flexible work schedule, fill-in pet care, financial means, children who are attached to the pet and space available are all factors to consider when determining custody of or visitation rights to the animal. Also taken into account is whether or not one of the spouses has been abusive to the pet.

Courts are increasingly relying upon the testimony of experts to assist them in reaching their decision. As this issue has grown in importance and frequency, many courts are attempting to base their orders on what would be in the best interests of the pets on a long-term basis, but the matter can still produce conflict. Divorcing couples who are able to reach an agreement on their own regarding their pets will be able to remove one often-contentious issue from the process.

Source: The Huffington Post, "Who Gets the Family Dog After Divorce?", Nancy Kay, November 10, 2013

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Victoria S. Linder Law Office
5303 Folsom Boulevard
Sacramento, CA 95819

Phone: 916-905-4805
Fax: 916-498-0127
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