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Family pets and the divorce process

Georgia couples going through a divorce may want to remember that custody issues can turn ugly, but not just those involving children. In a departure from the traditional question of who gets the kids, some couples battle in divorce court over who gets the family pets. Sometimes a couple involved in a divorce will fight over purebred dogs or cats. Others may squabble over custody of their beloved pets because they consider them four-legged children.

Some couples go so far as to buy insurance on their pets, take them to psychiatrists if they have trouble adjusting and spend thousands on expensive specialists if medical problems develop. In short, they spend as much on their pet as they would on their own kids. Despite that train of thought, the family court system sees pets as personal property. If the husband and wife divorce, the judge handling property division is likely to classify pets the same way as the car, the house, and the bank account.

Until family law catches up with the trend to think of pampered pets as children, what to do with them when their owners divorce could continue to cause friction. Georgia divorce courts follow the principles of equitable distribution, and a family law judge will divide marital property, including pets, in a matter that he or she deems fair.

Two possible solutions a family law attorney can suggest to take such a decision out of the hands of a judge are prenuptial and postnuptial agreements. In a prenuptial contract drawn up before a marriage, a clause could be put in stipulating who gets the pets in case of a breakup. If the couple acquires the pet together during the marriage relationship, a postnuptial agreement could specify who should get custody in case of divorce, based on who has a closer bond with the animal.

Source: The Daily Beast, "Divorce Is Going to the Dogs, Literally", Keli Goff, June 20, 2014

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