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Divorce can be complex for couples with pets

Most families couldn't possibly imagine spending any significant amount of time away from their animals, viewing them not just as pets, but rather as one of their own. In fact, it is this level of closeness that makes the divorce process all the more difficult for many families, as difficult decisions will have to be made concerning who will get the pets.

In general, pets are viewed as personal property in the eyes of the law, meaning they are subject to the property division process and its attendant legal disputes. Indeed, the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers recently surveyed 1,500 member attorneys and found that almost 25 percent had seen increases in pet-related legal disputes.

In states like Texas, these disputes typically center around whether the pet can be classified as personal property or community property. The distinction is important, as separate property cannot be divided by the family courts, and community property is typically split on a 50/50 basis. 

Property is classified as separate when it was secured via inheritance or gift, or was owned by one party prior to the marriage, while community property is anything secured during the course of the marriage.

In pet-related legal disputes, the couples will typically argue over whether the pet was received as gift to one spouse, or purchased during the course of the marriage such that a judge will have to decide which spouse should assume the primary care duties for the pet and if the other spouse is allowed to visit.

It is worth noting, however, that legal experts indicate that divorcing couples can avoid these pet-related legal disputes altogether, making the divorce process that much less difficult and less expensive.

Specifically, they can do this by agreeing to act as co-owners of the animal such that they share all care-related expenses and abide by a visitation schedule not unlike those made in child custody matters.

It's important for divorcing couples with questions about their pets or other important property division matters to consider speaking with an experienced legal professional to learn more about the law and their options.

Source: Parade, "In divorce, who gets the pets?" Michele Hollow, Aug. 18, 2014

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