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Pet custody included as a divorce legal issue

Family law attorneys in Georgia and around the country may have noticed that in divorce courts, more spouses are fighting over who will keep the cats and dogs. Since animal companions obtained during a marriage are considered marital property in the same legal category as a car or a piece of furniture, state property division rules are applied to them as well. Dogs were the most fought-over pet, with 88 percent of the total reported in a survey by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. Cats ran a distant second with just 5 percent of the total.

Some 27 percent of lawyers responding to the AAML survey said that they were aware of a rise in pet-custody divorce battles over the past five years. However, not all of these cases necessarily represented sincere effort on the part of each spouse to bring home a beloved pet. AAML's president said that some spouses start a fight over a co-owned animal in order to elicit concessions in other areas from their opposite numbers.

Respondents to the survey reported some unusual animals at the center of custody battles, including a parrot, an iguana and a python. Regardless of what kind of pet is the focus, the AAML president said, working out custody over an animal should be done the same way as working out custody of children - between the spouses without calling for court intervention. Where that is not possible, however, judges will rule according to marital property division laws as they would with any other contested asset on which the parties cannot agree.

Animal custody and other divorce legal issues may involve heavy emotions. An attorney with experience in divorce law may be able to assist a client in negotiating an acceptable resolution of these matters.

Source: MainStreet, "Pet Custody Battles on the Rise in Divorce Court", Juliette Fairley , February 21, 2014

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