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Addressing pet-related concerns in divorce cases

California is not alone in being a state that is filled with animal lovers. The Humane Society indicates that the number of cats and dogs in U.S. households is approaching 179 million. In many cases, couples without children allow a pet to fill a unique role of companionship. However, this can also result in heated battles for custody during a divorce.

As the issue has become more prevalent, many couples have addressed pets somewhat uniquely in comparison to the division of other marital assets. Some couples actually work out plans for exercising a pet, handling vet care, and visitation schedules as they go through their divorce proceedings. Others take their concerns to the courtroom as they contend for these rights. In a major New York case involving a same-sex couple, the divorcing women disputed ownership as one spouse had given the miniature dachshund in question to the other as a gift. The judge designated a hearing date strictly to address the issue of pet-related concerns, using the best interests of all concerned, including the dog, as the standard.

Those who own pets and anticipate possible issues might decide to head off such battles by working out pet-related interests during negotiations related to a divorce. A prenuptial agreement could be an important step for protecting one's rights related to a pet that is owned prior to marriage. It is helpful to recognize that pet-related issues are gaining recognition for their differences from other property concerns.

While pet ownership and visitation is just one aspect of divorce, it can be an emotional issue. Effective legal representation may be helpful for identifying one's priorities so that they can be clearly communicated during preliminary negotiations or in court. Additionally, it may be important to establish plans for dealing with any necessary modifications if personal circumstances for either party change.

Source: USA Today, "Pets increasingly at center of divorce battles", Cameron Saucier, Aug. 24, 2014

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