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Divorcing the dog: challenges of deciding on pet custody

Although it may sound relatively trivial, pet custody is a frequent topic in many divorce agreements. The most recent Census told us that over 70 percent of households in the United States have pets. With a steady divorce rate hovering around half of all marriages and many more breakups of unmarried couples who share a pet, pet custody is becoming a very real issue in many cases.

When couples choose a shared custody agreement of a pet that may also mean having much more contact with an ex than they otherwise would. On the other hand, for those who also have children together, shared pet custody may be an important part of a smooth transition and consistency for the kids.

Sometimes a pet custody issue can become a point of contention in a divorce, just as the division of assets with emotional value can. In those cases, experts in pet custody and divorce mediation suggest taking the approach of considering the best interests of the pet and trying to choose an arrangement that makes sense from that perspective.

Some people have a hard time remembering that if they do not come to an agreement about the pet, the court will treat it as property, since a pet is legally a “chattel”, which means it is a piece of personal property like a piece of art or jewelry. The court may look to circumstances like housing situation and work schedule to determine custody, but a judge may also look at the monetary value of the dog and allocate it to one spouse on that basis as well.

Source: East Bay Express, “How to Navigate Pet Custody Battles” Elly Schmidt-Hopper, June 5, 2013

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