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Pet custody: How to avoid fighting like cats and dogs

More than 60 percent of households in the United States include a pet, according the most recent National Pet Owners Survey. In total, that accounts for 71.1 million families or individuals who have welcomed a pet into their homes. Many people treat their pets like family members, so it's no surprise that important emotional bonds develop.

When couples decide that they are going to file for divorce, determining what will happen to their pets might be more difficult than a plain reading of the law suggests. Pets are property in purely legal terms, but many cat or dog owners might disagree.

Simply treating a pet as a marital or pre-marital asset during property division may not be amenable to either spouse involved in divorce. At the same time, spouses may not agree about who will maintain ownership of the animal. As such, it may be helpful to consider how divorce mediation could help settle this issue in an amicable fashion.

In the process of negotiating the terms of divorce, couples may forget about the needs of their pet. Spouses may have to understand that it's not only their interests that are involved in pet ownership. As such, one person may have to come to terms with the idea that a pet might be best served living permanently with his or her soon-to-be ex-spouse. At the same time, some couples may be able to work within a shared custody arrangements, similar to how issues of child care are addressed in divorce.

More than anything else, couples may simple want to be aware that pet custody might become an aspect of their split. Being prepared for this possibility could assist with reaching an agreement that is beneficial for the whole family.

Source: The Huffington Post, "Who Gets The Pets In A Divorce? What You Need To Consider When Fighting Over Fido," Maria Moya, Jan. 19, 2014

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