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How are pet custody matters decided in divorce?

Many married couples with and without children consider a dog or cat to be part of the family. While the family court system is highly involved in child custody matters, the same can't be said when it comes to pets. In fact pets are regarded as property in divorce proceedings and therefore the distribution and ownership of a pet is handled much the same as a piece of furniture or artwork.

Of course to a pet owner a beloved dog or cat is viewed very differently than other types of property and increasingly matters related to pet custody issues are cropping up in divorce cases. For individuals dealing with a pet custody dispute, it's important to retain an attorney who can present a compelling case for why an individual should retain ownership of a previously shared pet.

When seeking to win custody or be granted ownership of a dog or cat, it's important to present convincing evidence. In cases where an individual can prove that he or she purchased or initially retained sole ownership of a pet, it's likely a judge will rule in one's favor. However, even if a dog or cat was previously purchased or solely owned by an ex- spouse, an individual may be able to convince a judge to rule in their favor.

For example evidence like receipts for food or veterinary bills in one's name shows that an individual took financial responsibility for a pet's wellbeing. Additionally, neighbors may be able to attest that one spouse took on the major responsibilities of walking and grooming a dog.

As with all divorce matters, when possible it's always best to avoid conflict and fighting with an ex-spouse. In cases where both exes wish to retain custody of a family pet, finding a compromise through a shared custody or visitation agreement may be the best solution.

Source: America Legal Defense Fund, "What to do if you are involved in a custody battle over your companion animal," 2014

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