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Pets in a divorce: Property designation jars a lot of people

For many people in the divorce process, it becomes problematic right at the outset to be asked whether a beloved dog, cat or other animal that has been in the family for years is marital or non-marital property.,

The word "property" is guaranteed to pull emotionally at many millions of Americans when it is attached to a pet. Loving companions who have been steady allies through thick and thin can be deemed many things, but property is not generally among the designations that apply.

And, thus, property division that contemplates pets in a Florida divorce or dissolution or anywhere else in the country is bound to be an emotional and quite sensitive subject in most instances.

Most advisers on this topic will tell divorcing couples to try to reach an amicable agreement that -- just as with a child -- best promotes a pet's interest in a divorce. Where is the animal accustomed to living? Does it overtly prefer one person over another? Is one residence closer to a park and other dogs than another?

Divorcing couples should know that, if they take the subject of pet custody to a court, a judge will likely be highly disinclined to spend much time over the emotive aspects of an animal's proper placement in a family, contemplating visitation, best interests and so forth. Rather, that judge will ask who bought the animal and when (that is, is it marital or non-marital/separate property?) and likely make a decision right there if possible. If further probing is required, a few questions might be asked to ascertain whether one party rather than another routinely provides care to the animal, or whether the pet clearly prefers one person over another.

As one media article on so-called "pet custody" notes, courts prefer treating pets as property "because it simplifies and shortens the process" of determining how best to handle animal-related issues.

Experienced divorced attorneys know well how important an animal can be to the lives of family members, and that divorce can affect pet members of a family in material ways. To discuss pet-related issues in the context of divorce, contact a proven family law attorney who has significant experience handling divorces involving pets.

Source: East Bay Express, "How to navigate pet custody battles," Elly Schmidt-Hopper, June 5, 2013

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