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Divorcing couples should be prepared for pet custody battle

Many married couples do not have children, and instead have pets. To these couples, Fido or Mittens is very important to their family; in fact, they may think of the pet in the way many families think of their son or daughter. That is not a slight at families who have pets -- far from it. Instead, it is merely to highlight that a pet can be very important to a family. They care for their animal very deeply, and it brings the whole family happiness and joy.

These are good things -- but the difficult side of this scenario comes when a married, pet-owning couple decides their relationship is untenable. Divorce paperwork starts to get drawn up and, among the myriad debates that will come up over the next few months, Fido or Mittens will likely be at the center of it.

So what happens when a couple files for divorce and they own a pet? Well, the circumstances of the ownership matter greatly. If the pet was individually owned by either spouse before the marriage, then that spouse will keep the pet; similarly, if the pet came along during the marriage, it will be given to one spouse only if that spouse paid for the pet in full.

However, if the spouses paid for the pet together, then the judge presiding over their divorce will need to determine who the primary caretaker is; who pays for the supplies; and who has the deepest emotional connection with the pet (a difficult decision by any means).

Ultimately, though, this property division scenario (and, make no mistake, a pet is a piece of property in the eyes of a divorce court) can be avoided if the spouses create a pet custody agreement. You can draw things up similar to a child custody agreement, with schedules and rules that conform to your unique post-divorce situation.

Source: East Bay Express, "How To Navigate Pet-Custody Battles," Elly Schmidt-Hopper, June 5, 2013

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