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How Pets are Handled in a Divorce

What is more pure and beloved than a family dog? In a family with a treasured pet, that friendly animal can be loyal, loved, and a source of joy to everyone around. When a divorce happens, the first thoughts of separation are frequently to the kids or the house. But what happens to the dog?

There’s a reason we’re talking about dogs and not rabbits, hamsters, or goldfish. Canines are by far the most contested pet in a divorce - cats are a distant second. In the eyes of the law, pets are viewed as personal property, rather than an equal member of the family. Their custody is determined more like a side table than a child. While that can seem cold, it doesn’t mean that battles for who gets to keep the dog can’t get heated.

This is a question that can be taken care of before it becomes a problem. Pets, like other personal property, can have their ownership established in a prenuptial agreement. If you are already married, it can also be included in a postnuptial agreement. Having ownership settled ahead of time is the most surefire way to success, but it is not the only one.

While plenty of divorces (and pet decisions) happen outside of court, pet custody disputes are falling on the ear of Judges across the nation more than they ever have before. In some jurisdictions, It is even possible for both parties to be granted visitation of a pet, switching weeks or weekends on and off like children. Some Judges will even take into consideration the best interests of the pet, such as which party has a bigger yard or lives closer to a dog park.

More often than not, however, the custody of a pet is determined more like ownership of property than custody of children. Asking yourself several common sense questions will likely reveal who the Judge is most likely to side with: Did the pet originally belong to someone else before the wedding? Who primarily takes care of the pet? Who takes it to the vet, provides for it, and walks it? Whose lifestyle allows them to take better care of a pet? Who is more emotionally connected to the animal? If one member of the couple immediately came to mind while answering those questions, that is who is mostly likely to win custody.

Pets can be an essential part of a family, whether or not they have kids. The custody of a beloved dog is turning out to be just as important as the custody of a child. However, the law is more likely to treat it more like property in determining its primary caregiver. If you have questions about divorce or family law, contact the Law Offices of Mackenzie Sorich, PLLC today. We always have a compassionate legal professional at your service!

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